Investment in good housing for baby calves and field shelters for older calves can make a significant difference to the start of life for what are often the highest genetic merit stock on a property.
Whether you are looking at new shedding or improving your existing calf housing and its management, a little time and effort now may eliminate many problems through the season, saving on reactive spending, illness and losses.
Best practice requirements for animal welfare by the Ministry for Primary Industries state that calves must be able to lie down or rest comfortably for extended periods of time daily to meet their behavioural needs. They require a minimum space of 1.5m2 per calf and three solid walls at calf level to combat draughts and airflow, with ventilation above head height.
Often sub-standard housing or even a lack of housing can compromise calf health and cause lower feed intake issues, which is why well designed, hygienic facilities and a stress-free environment for both you and your calves is paramount. Sickness is the biggest threat to profit margins and the happiness of calf rearers. Stress = Distress.
An ideal shed for a calf should preferably be facing morning and midday sun for warmth and sterilisation – north/north-east. If sheds are not facing the right way, consider adding clearlight panels to improve sunlight. Adequate drainage and guttering on shedding can also make a significant difference.
Not having free drainage underfoot has a knock-on effect to the calf, impacting performance going forward. Keep entry into sheds clean and free of mud build-up.
Ventilation and airflow above head height can be easily added by removing some iron and replacing with shutters or shade cloth. Shearing sheds look nice from the outside but slatted floors can be draughty, uncomfortable and allow noxious gasses to circulate.
Check your plumbing and water reticulation. Calves need clean, fresh water from day one to help aid in rumination. Some long fibre that is not too easily consumed is also required for rumination. Build hay racks that limit hay availability, as too much fibre can be detrimental to pellet intake.
There are several health and nutrition issues that can arise if the housing/shelter is not adequate for calves.
As well as being uncomfortable for people, the build-up of noxious gases (including ammonia and carbon dioxide) can compromise animal welfare and predispose calves to respiratory disease and health issues like pneumonia.
Increased heat loss and bacteria build up from damp or heavily soiled bedding can lead to limited weight gains for calves. Shiver factor happens in a Friesian at 3oC when dry and 13oC when wet – and in a Jersey at 8oC when dry and 18oC when wet. If calves are expending energy to keep warm, it may be worthwhile increasing the concentration of milk powder or fortifying whole milk for a period.
Calves can contract salmonella from birds and vermin spreading disease in the shed. Cryptosporidium, E. coli, coccidiosis, coronavirus and rotavirus can also be spread by other animals and people, so practical biosecurity measures are important.
Healthy calves eat more and grow faster. NRM is committed to helping calf rearers achieve good outcomes – and now is a good time to review your calf housing before next spring.
For further information, contact your local Nutrition Specialist.
Article supplied by Karen Fraser, Technical Specialist.