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Dairy Calf Housing Flexible

Focus on the basics: ventilation, isolation, comfort and economy. By Neil Broadwater

Dairy calves can be raised in many different kinds of facilities. Choosing the right one for an individual farm depends on capital, labor and management resources available. Four basic requirements are ventilation, isolation, comfort and economy.

Proper ventilation means providing fresh air to remove organisms from the environment—dust, noxious odors, moisture and heat. However, too much air movement can chill the calf. Calf hutch design should allow for a steady flow of fresh air without drafts. For calves housed inside, ventilation needs increase with age and as temperatures rise.

Calves need to be isolated in pens that prevent direct contact with other calves from birth until at least two weeks after weaning. This prevents them from transmitting diseases to each other. Hutches should be at least two feet apart. Large-group pen housing increases chances of respiratory diseases and severe diarrhea. Group post-weaned calves by age and size in pens of three to five; at four months of age six to 12 per group is acceptable.

Hutches should be placed on well-drained material so urine and moisture moves away from the calves. Calves in individual pens should have 32 square feet per calf; calves in groups should have 28 square feet per animal. The optimal outdoor temperature for calves is about 70 degrees F.

In terms of economy, when choosing a calf housing system we need to consider whether labor and other costs will be reduced with more expensive systems. Some guideline costs for various systems, along with more details on calf housing designs, can be found in an article at

If you're thinking of remodeling a building, plan carefully to see if it will meet basic requirements. If the space can meet the environmental and management needs with cost-effective modification, it may be a viable alternative.

Neil Broadwater is a dairy educator with University of Minnesota Extension.

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