“We liked the option of completely emptying and disinfecting the buildings between batches of calves,” says Larson. “And compared to hutches, this design allows us to spend quality time caring for the calves, regardless of the weather.”
The Larsons constructed four, double-row barns that feature curtained sidewalls and concrete floors, with two floor drains per side. Each side holds 30 individual calf pens. When calves are taken off milk at seven weeks of age, half of the pen dividers are pulled, so calves are weaned in groups of two to promote socialization. They exit the buildings at eight weeks of age.
Larson says the building configuration makes three-time-a-day feeding of fortified pasteurized waste milk an easy job, and he credits the practice with excellent calf health and performance.
“All-in, all-out” — a term borrowed from the swine industry — often is used to describe these new buildings. In most cases, it’s not quite true. That’s because even the largest dairies do not have enough daily calvings to completely fill a single barn. But the buildings do offer a key benefit of the all-in, all-out concept — the ability to “rest” empty buildings between housings.
When a building is emptied of weaned calves, all pen panels can be pulled for easy clean-out with a skid-steer loader. At both the Smits and Larson dairies, the interiors and all of the pen dividers then are power-washed and allowed to sit idle for at least a week. “In our large, original calf barn, we never are able to get the entire building emptied out at one time,” says Larson. “And compared to hutches, the clean-out of the mini barns is much easier. Two guys can scoop out, wash and re-assemble a building in less than two full work days.”
Because the buildings are not heated, water does freeze inside in the winter, which requires the same vigilance in water feeding as is needed with hutches. But Larson estimates that the interior of the buildings is 10 to 15 degrees F warmer in the most extreme winter conditions compared to the outdoors.
The Larsons bed with straw year-around. The Smits’ use straw in the winter and sand in the summer, and also use calf jackets in the winter.
In the three years both dairymen have been using the buildings, health and performance of calves have been excellent. Both dairies have maintained the 1-to-3-percent or lower death loss that they were achieving in their previous housing situations. “We have not sacrificed anything in calf health by moving into these buildings,” says Smits. He and Larson both say that, with some minor adjustments, their buildings could be adapted to group housing with auto or group feeders.