Get your calves into their comfort zone

Natural suckling has been shown in studies to deliver variable and often inadequate intakes
Natural suckling has been shown in studies to deliver variable and often inadequate intakes
Tommy Heffernan

Tommy Heffernan

Comfort is a big factor in healthy thrive for calves.

I always try and look through the eyes of a calf. It pays to get down to calf level and assess their environment. Remember a calf will spend up to 20 hours a day lying down.

A lot of dairy calves naturally have poor fat covers so they can get cold quite quickly in low air temperatures or with cold winds.

Cold calves require more feed or energy to produce heat in the absence of a heat source or warm nesting area.

My own opinion is you can’t beat  deep straw bedding which allows calves nest and stay warm.

A lie back area or shelter in calf pens can often provide this.

This is also the principle behind calf igloos which has made them so successful. It allows the calf a warm shelter in times of cold. This is also why calf jackets work so well by providing calves with their own warm micro-climate.


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For the first three weeks of their lives, a calf must work to stay warm the if its temperature drops below 10°C.

This energy expenditure can affect growth and immunity.

Reducing moisture build-up in calf sheds is essential to reduce the chilling affect of moisture.

More importantly it also reduces the chance of infections in the calf environment.

Bacteria and viruses thrive in damp moist conditions so anything that makes live difficult for these bugs helps calves’ exposure to disease.

Getting factors like ventilation, floor gradients  and fresh bedding right reduces moisture build up and prevents exposure to damp.

Fresh air is essential for calves as it reduces airborne spread of virus and bacteria.

However, it is a fine balance between fresh air overhead and cold draughts blowing directly onto calves lowering their temperature.

This is why in many modern calf sheds they use positive pressure ventilation and fans to control airflow when required.

Unfortunately much of our calf accommodation doesn’t provide proper ventilation. In most cases there’s no need to invest in new calf sheds.

My experience is much can be done with existing buildings to improve calf comfort and health.

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