Since joining the Teagasc Green Acres Calf to Beef programme two years ago, Pat Bowden has being concentrating his efforts on developing a successful calf to beef enterprise.
He recently sold the last of his suckler cows and has decided to substantially increase the number of calves that he is going to rear from calf to beef.
Having one system/enterprise on the farm will make it more streamlined and easier to manage.
In the past, Pat would have bought in around 70 Friesian bull calves in the March/April period and these would have being reared as steers to be slaughtered from 26 to 30 months of age off of grass in the third grazing season.
The plan going forward is to rear 80 Friesian bull calves in the autumn period and a further 100 calves in the spring.
These will be slaughtered as steers between 24 and 28 months of age.
In order to successfully rear this number of calves, Pat has decided to invest in a dedicated calf rearing shed. Calves were previously reared in a lean-to and old stables that were on the farm.
These houses weren't ideal as calf rearing sheds and created a lot of labour, due to calves in a number of different locations and small sheds that needed to be cleaned out by hand.
In early January, the new calf shed was started and completed by local builder Micheal Bergin, Lisdowney, Co Kilkenny.
All internal works were completed by Pat and his father over the last few weeks.
The shed is now ready for the first intake of calves and when I visited the farm during the past week the first group of calves had arrived.
For Pat Bowden the calf house must provide the calf with easy access to milk, straw, concentrates and fresh water. It also needs to provide warmth and a dry bed in a well-ventilated but draught-free environment to maximise animal performance.
Pat sees the investment as an opportunity to improve his working conditions and make it easier to feed and care for large numbers of calves under the one roof.
In deciding where the calf house should be located, Pat picked an area at the periphery of the yard, where there is plenty of space around the building, while leaving room if the shed needs to be extended in the future.
The location of the calf house in relation to prevailing winds and other sheds, trees etc.
must be taken into consideration when planning a new house.
If there is not enough protection from adverse weather conditions wind and rain
will drive into the building resulting in wet beds and cold calves.
The calf house should ideally be at right angles to the prevailing wind direction.
Pat’s new shed is 63 feet long (4 bay) and 47 feet wide. It is a portal span shed with an A roof and no internal pillars.
The shed will be split up into 10 pens, 5 down each side with a 10 feet wide central passage. The shed will be used for calf rearing only as it is very important for disease control not to mix different size/age animals in the same air space.
Each pen is 12.5 feet (3.8m) wide by 18 feet (5.5m) deep; this will give a pen size of 225 square feet (21m2).
Given that a calf requires a minimum of 2m2, the maximum number of calves per pen will be 10, although 8 to 9 may well be plenty.
If you put ten calves initially into a pen of this size they appear to have loads of space and the temptation is to put many more in.
The reality is at the start of rearing the calf may only be 45kgs and very quickly over a number of weeks they will double in size and weight 90 – 100 kgs. It is at this stage you realise 8/9 claves would have been plenty in the pen.
The pen should not be too deep, to make calf observation easier.
Pat groups the calves together for the first ten to 12 weeks in groups of eight to ten. Ideally calves should be reared in even numbers as they “buddy up” and changing from this can seriously stress calves, affecting performance.
Pat’s plan is to fill the shed as quickly as possible to keep the ages of the calves similar to reduce the risk of respiratory diseases and scour and to
keep the group stable once formed.
It has also been shown that calves in stable groups had significantly higher daily live weight gains than those in groups where new calves were being continuously introduced and taken away from the group.
Calf sheds need to have ample lighting. Ideally provide 10pc of the roof/side sheeting as translucent sheeting to provide natural light.
As Pat has used Yorkshire boarding on both sides of the shed there should be plenty of natural light so he decided against putting any translucent sheeting in the roof.
Additional artificial lighting has been provided at calf level to aid inspection of calves.
Straw bedding & Drainage
A calf can spend up to 80pc of its time lying down therefore a warm dry bed is essential. Deep straw bedding is the preferred bedding material as it allows calves to nestle down into it – this helps keep the calf warm and can have a preventative effect against calf respiratory disease in naturally ventilated sheds.
The bed must be dry at all times and replaced frequently, to check that the bed is suitable, kneel down on the bedding where the calves are expected to lie.
If the knees of your trousers are wet when you stand up then the bedding is too wet for the calves.
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Drainage in calf housing is vital. To get this right Pat put in a concrete floor with a slope of 1:20 from the back wall of the pen to the centre passage where there is a two inch channel to take away the seepage.
This will be filled with pea gravel, so that the liquid can run out to a seepage tank at the front of the shed.
He designed the shed so that excess liquids do not mix from pen to pen.
This will also cut down on the amount of bedding required.
Poor drainage and wet beds lead to extra pressure on the ventilation system.
Gordon Peppard is programme advisor for the Teagasc Calf to Beef Programme
Roof pitch and outlet ventilation
The roof pitch should be a minimum of 17degrees and can be up of 22 degrees this will give the best performance in terms of moving air out of the building. The pitch on the Bowden`s new shed is 17degrees, to keep the overall height of the apex down.
It is essential to have a good outlet so that excess heat, water vapour, dust, gases (ammonia, methane, carbon dioxide),bacteria, viruses can be removed from the shed and that a continuous stream of fresh air can be provided for the animals.
Calves require an absolute minimum outlet of 0.04m2 per calf, if Pat has 100 calves in the shed he will need at least 0.04 x 100 = 4m2 of an outlet at the apex of the roof. As the shed is 19.2 metres long (4 bay) then the minimum opening at the top has to be 4/19.2 = 0.21m (8.5inches).
To ensure plenty of outlet, Pat left an opening of 14 inches with a covered canopy to ensure that no rain water could get back into the shed.
Viruses and bacteria thrive in humid conditions therefore a constant supply of fresh air is vital in order to prevent respiratory infections and other diseases.
Spaced sheeting in the roof are not recommended for calf housing as any rain that gets in will wet the calf bed and affect performance.