Group housing of young dairy calves is not a new concept, but it is gaining more attention lately.

"Group housing for dairy calves has some pros and some cons, like anything else in an animal housing system," says Jud Heinrichs, professor of dairy science at Penn State University.

In the April 2013 issue of the Penn State Dairy Digest, Heinrichs discusses case studies from two farms he visited to highlight some of the potential issues to consider when housing calves in groups.

On the first farm, group-housed calves were far too thin, but it wasn't because they were underfed.

"... these calves were getting 2 gallons of milk replacer per day; by most standards this was an aggressive feeding schedule," Heinrichs says. "Unfortunately with that high of a feeding schedule comes a lot more urine. When calves produce a lot of urine, you need more bedding and more frequent cleaning. In this case, neither was being done often enough."

The result: Cold, wet calves that appeared to be very thin. "Cold, wet calves use a lot more energy to maintain their body temperature in winter; it can be a huge energy drain," Heinrichs says.

On the second farm, scouring among the group-housed calves was a big problem, particularly in younger animals.

"It is likely that there were a variety of issues affecting the calves, and younger calves were probably affected by several health issues all at once," Heinrichs says.

Learn what Heinrichs suggested these two farms do to resolve the issues in their respective group-housing systems. Read more…

"If you are considering a change in your calf feeding and management, visit some working systems before you make any decisions," Heinrichs concludes.

Source: April 2013 Penn State Dairy Digest