Important factors when switching to modern calf and heifer facilities


Key takeaways from the research

  • Modern housing facilities should enable calves and heifers to express normal behaviour
  • Calves should be moved to group housing at an early age
  • Stress should be reduced by accelerated feeding schedules
  • Grouping strategies should not be based on age alone
  • Readiness for breeding should be based on physical dimensions instead of age

Modern housing facilities and adequate grouping strategies reduce stress in dairy calves

Along with appropriate nutrition, proper health care and the freedom to exhibit normal behaviours, an appropriate housing plan for calves and heifers is just as essential for on-farm success. Dr Joseph Harner, Professor of Biological and Agricultural Engineering at Kansas State University claims that having a first-rate environment where they can exhibit normal behaviour is essential for successful calf and heifer rearing. What factors need to be kept in mind when transitioning from traditional to more modern facilities?


The importance of reducing stress

Moving from individual hutches pre-weaning to group housing at an earlier age and switching from manual to automated feeding can reduce the following types of stress

  • Stress of isolation
  • Environmental stress
  • Stress related to feeding ration and hunger

To address these stress factors, facilities should be healthy, comfortable environments and should include:

  • Plenty of fresh, dry air
  • Convenient access to feed and water
  • Confident footing
  • Clean, dry and comfortable resting areas
  • Draft protection
  • Protection from weather extremes
  • Groupings based on more than just age


Suggestions on grouping strategies

Some suggested grouping strategies when moving to more modern calf and heifer rearing facilities include:

  • Grouping calves based on weight instead of age
  • Use of accelerated feeding programs, based on weight
  • Physical dimensions as indicators for readiness to breed, instead of age only

While transitioning to more modern facilities will require investments, developing a long-term and flexible plan which does not have to be implemented right away, but utilizes all available on-farm data will have a positive impact on calf and heifer facility management goals.


Download the article

LifeStart Pillars

Colostrum Management
Weaning Strategies
Calf to heifer

More about pre-weaning

The detrimental effects of social isolation

Group housing of calves has many positive effects on behaviour and performance. Potential disadvantages can be managed.

Respiratory disease has a negative impact on weight gain of dairy calves

Bovine respiratory disease is a major cause of morbidity and mortality in young dairy calves and has a negative effect on average daily gain.

Calves fed ad libitum will regulate their feed intake towards a balanced diet

Calves fed ad libitum balance their diets towards a correct ratio between protein and energy and wean themselves at 6 months of age. This information can help to avoid a weaning dip.