New research, published in the January Journal of Dairy Science, indicates that calves moved from individual hutches to group pens immediately following weaning have a lower incidence of respiratory problems.

Two experiments were conducted to evaluate whether performance could be improved and the incidence of respiratory problems decreased by either allocating six additional days of individual housing after weaning or by moving calves into groups before weaning at two different ages.

In the first experiment, 320 calves received 2 liters (2.11337 quarts) of milk replacer twice daily until 49 days of age, and then 2 liters (2.11337 quarts) of milk replacer once daily until weaning at 56 days of age. Half the calves remained individually housed for an additional six days after weaning. The other half were moved immediately after weaning to a group pen holding eight calves.

In the second experiment, 240 calves received 2 liters (2.11337 quarts) of milk replacer twice daily until 49 days of age and then 2 liters (2.11337 quarts) of milk replacer once daily. Half of the calves were moved at 49 days of age to superhutches that held eight calves and continued to receive milk replacer. The other half remained individually housed until the age of 56 days and were then moved to the superhutches, where they also continued to receive milk replacer.

Growth and cases of respiratory problems were recorded in both experiments. 

Researchers concluded that moving calves from individual hutches to groups of calves immediately after weaning is preferable to waiting an additional six days. In addition, moving calves from individual hutches to groups of eight at 49 days of age and starting to reduce milk replacer once grouped is preferable to starting to reduce milk replacer while calves are individually housed.

Read the abstract  from the January Journal of Dairy Science.