Is there one right way to raise calves? No, but the proof of any pudding is in the tasting. The Dairy Calf & Heifer Association Gold Standards for calves from 24 hours of life to 60 days include these goals:
- Mortality: < 5 percent
- Scours requiring intervention lasting at least 24 hours: < 25 percent
- Pneumonia requiring treatment: < 10 percent
- Growth: Double birth weight by 60 days
Whether you individually house calves or group-house calves, these standards can help you evaluate performance at your farm and be a report card on your management.
Of course there is much more to be learned and said, and more articles to be written about group-housing and feeding of calves. Please see the article by Dr. Miriam Weber Nielsen in the July 2012 issue of the Michigan Dairy Review.
The bottom line is that group-housing has been a very successful change for some dairy producers and calf growers in Michigan as well as other states and countries. Whether it is for you depends on your current facilities, goals, labor force and performance in raising healthy calves.