Each box is built to hold one calf. Dimensionally, they are 2 ft W x 4 ft H x 4 ft D (see Figures below). They are completely made of plastic material to allow for easy cleaning and disinfecting between calves. The floor is made of rubber coated expanded metal grating to facilitate drainage of urine and feces. The front panel is clear Plexiglas which allows for easy observation. Each box has its own thermostatically controlled heater to maintain an air temperature of 72 degrees F. The list of construction materials is in Table 1.
At birth, calves are towel-dried and moved to the warming boxes using a calf sled (available from www.foxworthysupply.com). While in the boxes, calves receive 1 gal of high quality colostrum and other neonatal health procedures. Calves remain in the boxes for approximately 24 hr at which point they are moved to outside calf hutches. The number of boxes needed may vary depending on breeding programs, but roughly, 1 box/ 25 cows is a starting place.
While it may not be practical, to remove every calf this soon, consider times and situations where the importance of this option is increased; such as the case when calving into a pen with more than one cow or when JD test-positive dams calve. In these instances, the risks are higher and the need to protect the calf is greater.
Advantages of Warming Boxes
Farm personnel and veterinarians have identified several advantages with the warming boxes. First, a significant drop in the incidence of calf scours has occurred. This is likely a result of the rapid removal of the calf from an environment where it could become exposed to a multitude of pathogens (E. coli, cryptosporidium, salmonella, etc.) that cause calf diarrhea.
Personnel also have noticed that calves from dystocia occurences seem to respond better when put into the boxes, presumably because of the added warmth provided. Although it is too early to tell if the calf boxes are advantageous in the JD control program, our understanding of the biology of the disease has convinced us that early removal of calves from adult cow environments, including the maternity pen, will reduce the risk of MAP transmission. The major disadvantage of the boxes is that they need to be cleaned and disinfected which obviously requires added labor. The staff estimates that 30 to 60 minutes is needed to clean all four boxes.
Protecting the health of the next generation of replacement animal is critical. The use of calf warming boxes is another tool in what should be a comprehensive control program on farms. No one practice can substitute for improperly maintained maternity pens or failure to implement other key strategies such as not feeding the colostrum of test positive dams. However, innovative solutions such as the one described here helps to ensure early calf health which can translate into superior health and performance as adults.