Poorly designed and inadequately maintained calf sheds will compromise animal health and put added pressure on calf rearers.
A bit of thought and planning now can make life a lot easier come the spring.
From bedding to guttering, cleaning to lighting – here’s a checklist to get you started.
Make sure your sheds are cleaned out from last season and are thoroughly disinfected to kill any lingering pathogens. Virkon is a good option as it is effective against over 400 different pathogens, including many of the diseases that are a risk to calves in New Zealand such as rotovirus, salmonella, E. coli, campylobacter and M. bovis. Spray at a 1:100 rate when spraying out sheds before the start of the season, and a 1:200 rate during the calf season while calves are present in the sheds.
Consider steam cleaning sheds now if more difficult-to-kill pathogens such as crypto popped up last season – equipment for doing this can be hired so check out your options locally.
Set up a boot disinfecting point by your sheds.
Calves prefer a light and airy environment. Dark, dingy and damp sheds should be avoided. If the sheds you have on farm are not ideally designed, try and work with what you have got e.g. consider adding clearlight panels to let more sunlight in.
Pens should not be draughty at calf height but should have good airflow above calf height to avoid the build-up of ammonia, which predisposes calves to respiratory diseases such as pneumonia. Use your imagination to make your sheds work for you by adding in ventilation where it needs to be and stopping draught where you know it sneaks in. Slatted floors are a big no-no.
Adequate guttering on sheds can also make a big difference for you and the calves, so make sure any maintenance is sorted.
Give your back a break by re-setting gates that do not swing freely, for easy calf movement.
Start to think about your bedding options. Whether using wood chip, sawdust or stones – the main goal is bedding that is dry and well-drained. Wet bedding is a massive risk to animal health.
Check your milk feeders and meal troughs are in good order and that you have enough of them.
Check plumbing and water reticulation. Fresh, clean water should always be available, and at a height calves can reach from day one.
Ensure your pens are numbered and think about installing a whiteboard – this can be handy for noting down animal health information while on the go.
Offering long fibre for calves that is not too easily consumed is important. Build hay racks that limit hay availability, as too much fibre can decrease pellet intake. There are many ways to effectively do this – us kiwis are great at inventing new ways of doing things.
Article supplied by Stacey Cosnett, NRM Nutritionist.