More growth and health in outdoor housing

12 May 2021

Thorough calf rearing is essential for a good performance as a dairy cow. With a high feeding regime and an all-in, all-out housing in small, fixed groups, calves perform best. This according to research by the Dutch Dairy Campus/WUR with 224 breeding calves in four different rounds. VDK Agri’s outdoor housing in group hutches came out well in this investigation. The calves grew significantly faster and less antibiotics were needed. All-in, all-out with small, fixed groups seem to be an important key to success.

The research

Dairy Campus (part of Wageningen University & Research in the Netherlands) conducted research from 2016 to 2018 into the development of an innovative calf rearing concept: Innocalf. This study examined the contrast between alternative and regular calf rearing. Below we explain the difference:

  • Alternative calf rearing: the calves are housed outside in VDK Agri individual calf hutches for the first 10 days, then the calves are housed outside in VDK Agri group hutches for four all-in, all-out calves.
  • Regular calf rearing: the calves are housed outside in VDK Agri single calf hutches for the first 10 days and then transferred to indoor housing in groups of 10 on straw with an automatic calf feeder 

Excellent results

VDK Agri focuses on housing for calves during the first four months of life. In the trial we weighed at 9 and 18 weeks of age in relation to this period. Calves housed in VDK Agri group hutch turned out to be on average 3.1 kg and 8.5 kg heavier than the calves housed regularly at these times. It also turned out that on average, the calves in VDK Agri housing needed significantly fewer days of treatment with antibiotics than the calves in the regular housing (0.8 versus 2.79 treatment days).

That calves in the VDK Agri group hutches were somewhat dirtier than the calves in the regular group pens with straw can be explained by the fact that the calves in the VDK Agri hutches were housed on grids instead of straw. Housing the calf outdoors on grids may not look as attractive, but the animals perform significantly better for both growth and health.

Trial results up to 18 weeks

Pilot factor




Group shed

VDK Agri

All-in, all-out



Weight at 9 weeks (kg)





Growth up to 9 weeks (gram/day)






Weight at 18 weeks (kg)





Growth up to 18 weeks (gram/day)








Number of days with antibiotics, total





Number of days with antibiotics, respiratory





Outdoor housing in small, fixed groups with all-in, all-out VDK Agri housing shows significantly better growth and health during the first 18 weeks than regular indoor housing in straw pens with a calf feeder. VDK Agri’s all-in, all-out housing in small groups is ideal for optimal calf rearing.


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