As dairy farms grow and expand their milking herd numbers, so does the dairy replacement herd. With eight percent of the total number of cows represented by pre-weaned calves, the number of calves for operations 500 cows and larger can be a minimum of 40 calves on milk at one time. With more calves to feed as the dairy operations grow, time, labor and facilities devoted to the replacement herd also increases.

Although individual calf hutches are the industry’s preferred housing for pre-weaned calves, dairy operators continue to build calf barns to address the discomfort and inconvenience of cold weather, snow and rain for the calf raiser. Regardless of the type of housing provided, the facility must meet certain criteria to provide a healthy environment and optimize calf growth:

  • Minimize calf stress
  • Provide fresh air, which limits drafts
  • Provide clean, dry and comfortable resting places
  • Provide adequate feed and water
  • Manage effects of extreme weather

Providing an excellent, well ventilated environment of the calf is a key components in successfully raising calves. In 2004, Lago, et al. at the UW-Madison School of Veterinary Medicine determined that calf pens can be “microenvironments” within the barn. Inside the barns, even when naturally ventilated and maintained as “cold barns”, many calf pens are enclosed on three or four sides to prevent contact between calves.

To learn more how “microenvironments” affect calf health and the three key housing factors to optimize calf respiratory health, please view Optimizing Respiratory Health in Calf Barns.

For more information regarding calf ventilation, please visit UW-School of Veterinary Medicine’s The Dairyland Initiative. For more information regarding calf and heifer management, please visit Dairy Calf & Heifer Management UW-Extension.