Important factors when switching from traditional to modern calf and heifer facilities

Having an appropriate housing plan for calves and heifers is just as essential for on-farm success as planning for future milk production facility needs, says Dr. Joseph Harner, Professor of Biologial and Agricultural  Engineering at Kansas State University. Indeed, having a first-rate environment is included in his prescription for successful calf and heifer rearing facilities, along with appropriate nutrition, proper health care, and the freedom to exhibit normal behaviours.

First-rate environment for calves and heifers to exhibit normal behavioursSo, what factors need to be kept in mind when transitioning from traditional to more modern facilities?

Reducing stress

Using moving from individual hutches pre-weaning to group housing at an earlier age, and switching from manual to automated feeding as examples, the focus is on stress reduction. Which types of stress are addressed?

  • Stress of isolation
  • Environmental stress
  • Stress surrounding feed and feed ration/hunger

How are these stresses addressed? Facilities should be healthy, comfortable environments in which all animals can thrive and should include:

  • Plenty of fresh, dry air
  • Convenient access to feed and water
  • Confident footing
  • Clean, dry and comfortable resting areas
  • Draft protection
  • Protection from weather extremes
  • Groupings based on more than just age

Suggestions on grouping strategies

Some suggested grouping strategies when moving to more modern calf and heifer rearing facilities include:

  • Grouping calves based on weight instead of age (weeks or months)
  • Inclusion in accelerated feeding programs, based on weight
  • For breeding, using physical dimensions that indicate readiness, instead of age only

While transitioning to more modern facilities will require investment, developing a long-term and flexible plan which does not have to be implemented right away, but which utilizes all available on-farm data will point your calf and heifer facility management goals in a positive direction.

To learn more, you can review Dr. Joseph Harner's full remarks from the June, 2016, Vita-Plus Calf Summit here