Kris and Carla Wardin recently finished construction on a new heifer facility at their operation in St. Johns, Mich.
The Wardins had been raising calves in an old stanchion barn that had been converted to a calf-raising facility. Originally, the calves were raised with calf collars, then the dairy switched to individual pens, but the Wardins still weren’t happy. The facility was overcrowded and not well-ventilated.
They looked for an option that would be better for the calves, but also meet the needs of their seasonal grazing operation. Calves at Evergreen Dairy are born in a three-month time period.
“We looked at all the options: hutches, a calf barn and a heifer barn,” says Kris Wardin. “If we had built a dedicated calf barn for birth to weaning, it would have only been in use four months out of the year and we would have needed a second barn.”
To meet the herd’s needs, the Wardins decided to build a combination barn that has both group pens and individual calf pens.
The new barn consists of 150 individual stalls that can be converted into group pens. The stall walls are panels that can be pulled out and moved. The fronts of the individual pens are built on a gate frame and transition into 12-foot gates. The gate frame that includes the pen fronts was custom-designed and built locally for the dairy.
Calves stay in individual pens until seven weeks of age, then transition into groups of eight.
Wardin says he expects to see a multitude of benefits, but it’s too early yet to tell. The most tangible benefit so far has been on the really hot days. “The new barn is the coolest place on the farm,” notes Wardin. “It’s about 10 to 15 degrees cooler than anywhere else on the farm, and 20 to 25 degrees cooler from where the calves were. We had fans blowing in the old facility, but it just wasn’t as cool. The new barn provides excellent ventilation and shade for the calves.”