The best housing for calf-rearing

What would be the ideal calf-rearing facilities? Much research has been done but opinions are still divided. At VDK Agri, we believe that housing is a personal choice and means the ideal housing for your company. Do you prefer your calves outside or do you prefer to keep them inside? And do you opt for individual igloos or for duo housing?

Inside or outside?

If you choose to house calves indoors, you will select a sheltered place for both the animals and the worker(s). A place where you don't have to worry about extreme weather conditions. An important condition for indoor housing secure ventilation is and prevention of cross-contamination. If you opt for outdoor housing, you need not worry about the ventilation. It is also well accepted that outdoor housing contributes to a low infection pressure and a strong immune system.

Individually or together?

Modern dairy farming systems often choose to separate calves and house them individually during the first few weeks. This offers many advantages, especially in terms of the risk of infection. There must then be room for all born calves up to 3 weeks old in calf igloos. In addition, there must be room for the heifer calves that are being raised to 4 months. This can be done from 3 weeks in group housing. It means that calf igloos must be provided for approximately 15% of the number of cows and group housing for 15% of the number of cows. Preference is given to small fixed groups of the same age.

Some points of interest: 

  • Make sure there is sufficient clean straw in the calving pen. Do not forget to disinfect the navel immediately after the birth of the calf. Take calves as soon as possible to a 100% clean calf igloo (cleaned and disinfected!) For transport, use a specially reserved, clean and disinfected wheelbarrow with clean straw. Then give the animal sufficient good quality colostrum as soon as possible.
  • During the first three weeks at least, the calves are to be housed individually in a calf igloo with respect to optimal monitoring of feed intake, building up active immunity, susceptibility to diarrhoea, etc.
  • Young calves housed in the same area as older animals are exposed to transmission of disease through the air.
  • There must always be a clean, dry surface. Provide litter daily. In the bedding the knees of a lying calf must not be visible.

Duo hutch

Studies and articles increasingly show the benefits of duo housing, but what does this mean in concrete terms? We'll be happy to list it for you:

  • Seeing others feeding is stimulating: research has shown that calves housed in pairs have better feed intakes, with the obvious positive effects on the growth. The duo housing also has a positive effect on the feed intake after the milk has been lost and mixing in groups. Calves housed in pairs start eating as early as day one, unlike individually housed calves, which need an extra day to do so. This leads to less weight loss.
  • The calves can influence each other in a positive way in duo hutches. They develop a lower stress level, are more curious, less anxious and allow themselves to be groomed more easily, making daily care more pleasant. Research shows that calves housed in pairs will cope better with changes than individually housed calves.
  • Research shows that duos are also healthier. They have significantly fewer diarrhoea and respiratory tract infections as they stay together longer and there is therefore less risk of contact with other calves.