Calf Housing (Full series)

David Kammel, PhD, Biological Systems Engineering Professor for UW-Madison/UWEX and Dr. Vicky Lauer, DVM, Professional Services Veterinarian with ANIMART discuss calf housing options and best management considerations including positive pressure ventilation systems.


Liz Binversie, UW-Extension Brown County Agriculture Educator


David Kammel, PhD, Biolological Systems Engineering Professor, UW-Madison/UWEX

Dr. Vicky Lauer, DVM, Professional Services Veterinarian, ANIMART


Total time: 9:43 minutes

0:00        Intro and Types of housing facility options for calves

1:53        Considerations for positive pressure ventilation systems

4:27        Types of bedding and bedding considerations

6:23        Nesting scores and management considerations


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Liz Binversie: Good morning. My name is Liz Binversie, the Brown County UW-Extension Agriculture Educator, and today we’re going to be talking about calf housing facilities and considerations. And with me today is David Kammel, Biological Systems Engineering professor at UW-Madison Cooperative Extension, as well as Dr. Vicky Lauer, Professional Services Veterinarian at ANIMART. So we’re going to start it off today talking about the different types of individual housing facilities, so David, what are some different types of housing facility options for calves?

David Kammel: Well, probably the most common is the calf hutch. We’ve gotten calves out of the tie stall barn and [into] nice, comfortable calf hutch that has been used for many, many years. It’s used quite a bit [and] is very good at raising healthy calves. We have enough capacity on the farm usually to have all the calves in hutches plus some extra ones to be able to rest them between calves. Other options become putting them in individual pens within a calf barn. Dr. Vicky, you got any other comments?

Dr. Vicky Lauer: Only one additional option would be the group housing available for the automated calf feeders. That’s becoming fairly popular nowadays.

Liz Binversie: So we talked about a couple options. What are some considerations for positive pressure ventilation for calf facilities? Dr. Vicky, what are your thoughts on this?

Dr. Vicky Lauer: So since calf barns are becoming much more common now and popular—just because people want to work in better conditions during the winter—positive pressure ventilation systems are becoming much more important because as Dr. David mentioned, calf hutches really are the best for air quality but we can get fairly close in a calf barn by using a positive pressure ventilation system. So in case you haven’t seen these before, it’s fairly simple. There is a fan that draws air from outside into a tube which runs the length of the barn. The tube has holes placed all throughout the length of the tube, and then they are designed to blow air down to about the level of the calf without drafting the calf. These systems should be designed by professionals who’ve been trained. I pretty commonly see systems that are designed by say the builder and unfortunately sometimes they don’t work. So if you go to the Dairyland Initative website, they have a list of trained professionals that you can contact to design a positive pressure ventilation system for your farm. And then another important thing is that these systems should run all the time in the winter. If you have a naturally ventilated calf barn, then you actually close the barn completely up and then just run the PPV system all winter long. David, do you have any additional comments?

David Kammel:  So, yes Dr. Vicky it is very important for somebody that has worked with these systems before to design them properly. Probably the worst problems I see are the system was designed and there’s a fan, there’s a tube, but it’s the incorrect size. And then the farmers are a little discouraged because it’s not working right, the air quality isn’t what they thought it might be. So getting the tube size, the fan size properly done, the holes locations properly done, should be done by somebody that’s on the Dairyland Initiative. They go through training. I’ve gone through the training several times. I know a lot of different veterinarians and some suppliers who’ve gone through the training but there are a lot of systems out there where the farmer just goes to the local supply store, buys the fan, buys a tube, doesn’t really know, hasn’t really gone through any design, puts it in themselves and it doesn’t work.

Liz Binversie: So we’ve talked about the different types of facilities and considerations, but what about bedding? Are there different types of bedding and things to consider with bedding maintenance that are particularly important? David, what are your thoughts on this?

David Kammel: I guess I look at several options based on season. I see a lot of calf hutches, for example, that are using sand in the summer. But I would not look at using sand in the winter. At that time, I would be using long straw or something that calves can nest in. In the summer also I would see probably sawdust. Again, that might not be the right bedding system in the winter. Bedding maintenance is all based on how clean do you want the calf and how hard do you want to bed them. It should be done so that there is a lot of dry bedding in the space. The fact the calf stays in an individual hutch for almost 2 months usually and it’s going to take a significant amount of bedding, continually added. Usually you don’t clean the hutch out until after you remove a calf. So adequate bedding is always important and depends on the season. If it’s rainy and wet like we had a week ago, we’re going to have to take extra steps to bed properly compared to a nice, dry, cold winter that maybe is not as wet and doesn’t require quite the amount of bedding. So bedding maintenance and identifying how calves look, how clean they are, are their hair coats getting matted down, will all indicate that they probably need more bedding.

Dr. Vicky Lauer: One bedding type that I’m beginning to see more of are wood chips, which as David mentioned, this would be great in the summer because you can get them from a local mill really cheap. There’s lots of them available, but this would not be a good choice in the winter because again they cannot nest down in it.

Liz Binversie: And now we’ve talked about the facilities, we’ve talked about different types of bedding, and bedding considerations, but when it does come to bedding how do you best determine nesting scores? Dr. Vicky, what are some good practices with this?

Dr. Vicky Lauer: So the University has developed a system involving 3 scores. So a nesting score of 1 would be when a calf is lying down, no bedding covers any part of the foot or leg, so in the summer this would be calves laying on sand or on wood chips or whatever. You’ll just be able to see their foot and their leg. This is fine in the summer. It’s not proper for winter because that calf cannot nest into the bedding. And then there’s a nesting score of 2. When a calf is lying down with a nesting score of 2, part of the leg will still be visible while the other part will be covered by bedding—usually the lower part of the leg would be covered by bedding. So this would be adequate in the winter if the calf also had a calf jacket. If you’re not using a calf jacket, then this is not adequate bedding. The calf can’t nest in there well enough. And then a nesting score of 3 would be really deep bedding where that calf can nestle in and the bedding would cover all the way up the legs, so the entire leg would be covered with bedding. Basically, nice long-stemmed hay or straw is going to be the only type of bedding that would accomplish this nesting score. And a nesting score 3 is what we want in the winter. David, do you have anything else to add?

David Kammel: Yeah, Dr. Vicky, you’re right. The thing that I see quite often in the winter is you can’t expect the calf—even if it’s a deep bed of saw dust or wood chips or I see soybean stubble for example—calves can’t really squiggle down into that and bury themselves into it like they can into a long, deep bed of long straw, wheat straw, those kinds of things. And that’s probably the biggest problem I see on farms where the ventilation system seems to be working properly. It’s a cold environment. They need some protection—that little extra ability to nest certainly helps the environment because they get to choose in that pen where they want to be and usually the problem is either not enough bedding, or wet bedding, or it’s not a bedding they can actually nest in.

Liz Binversie: So we’ve heard some great recommendations, really good information about calf housing facilities, the considerations producers should be taking when thinking about calf housing facilities and managing them. I’d like to thank again our panel today which is David Kammel, Biological Systems Engineering professor at UW-Madison Cooperative Extension and Dr. Vicky Lauer, Professional Services Veterinarian at ANIMART for being with us today and sharing all of their great expertise and recommendations.

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