Raising calves is arguably one of the most challenging and labor intensive jobs on the farm. However, recent studies indicate that group housing may be an option to reduce labor associated with raising calves. Research is also showing that there are additional benefits to the calf such as increased milk consumption, socialization and exercise.
Marina von Keyserlingk and Dan Weary, animal welfare experts with the University of British Columbia, shared key points that you should discuss when considering group housing. The following points were presented at the Cornell Nutrition Conference this fall:*

  • Think through group size. Successful group rearing requires appropriate management, which includes selecting the appropriate group size. Smaller groups are easier to manage; we recommend group sizes of less than 10 calves.
  • Decide what feeding method you will adapt. Successful group housing requires nipple feeding. Feeding more milk reduces competition and improves efficiency of use of automated feeders.
  • Take into account design and management of the housing system. Cleanliness and ventilation will affect disease susceptibility more than group housing.
  • All-in, all-out management of groups aims to reduce the risk of disease.
Effective group housing requires excellent management; do not attempt housing calves in groups if you are currently struggling with high rates of calf mortality and morbidity or if your farm struggles with ongoing problems with colostrum feeding. 

*Reprinted with permission from Marina von Keyserlingk and Dan Weary.