4 Points to Consider When Building New Calf and Heifer Facilities

Raising quality heifers is a priority on every farm. ( Heidi Fischer )

1. Automate as much as possible. 

Heidi Fischer, co-ownerof Fischer-Clark Farms,says making the facilities work for you is critical. “Try to automate as much as you can, whether that’s alley scrapers or equal pen sizes for ease of moving,” she says.

2. Make the barn work for you. 

“If you’re going to build a building, then you have to make it work for you, and you have to use the tech-nology,” she says adding that other farms they toured before building their facility were not necessarily doing that. “We were warned that going four-row might mean a colder barn in the wintertime, but because it’s mono-sloped to the south side with clear [polycarbonate] siding, if it’s -20°F outside, it can get as warm as 15.” She says the after-noon sun provides the calves a reprieve from the cold. “It’s just using what’s around us like sun and taking advantage of that,” she adds. 

3. Build bigger than your current needs.

Fischer says they built their calf barn to accommodate their herd-size goal of 1,000 milking cows in addition to some beef calves that come from their lower end milking cows. “We always build our facilities a little bit bigger than what we know we need because, as with all Wisconsin farmers, we like to collect cows,” she adds. During the initial design stages of building a facility, Joe Harner, head of the biological and agricultural engineering department at Kansas State University says it’s important to consider if you will be able to grow with the facility. Maybe you’re only feeding 400 calves now, but plan to feed 1,000 in five years. “Design the pens to accommodate 1,000,” he says. “You don’t have to build them all, but don’t build the thing so tight that there’s no flexibility.”

4. Consider efficiency.

For example, is your feeder going to have to drive from one side of the farm to the other to feed out the same load of feed to the short bred heifers, Harner asks. Pen organization improves efficiency. Fischer agrees: “We toured a lot of facilities that were inefficient, and it’s something we really focus on.”

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