When it comes to keeping your calves housed, there is no such thing as too much space. The greater the quality of ventilation and drainage the calves' living quarters have access to the less chance there is of bacterial growth and stale air build up, which combined would lead to an increased possibility of infectious diseases.
It is obvious why keeping the risk of disease down is important. Much like a new born human baby, a calf's immune system is still relatively weak in comparison to that of a mature cow or bull; and a sickness that they could brush off with ease may cause a calf some serious issues. Of course the most immediate issue, and the one that most will worry about, is the prospect of death, which is no doubt a major concern; there are however consequences of childhood illnesses that may not present themselves until the calf is more mature. These consequences can affect a heifer's ability to conceive or develop a healthy calf, as well as affect the quality and quantity of the milk it produces; whilst in bulls it can lead to decreased fertility, or possibly even sterility.
Having said that, space is not always readily available, and the more calves you have to house the more difficult finding the space can be. Often you will have to make a compromise between a calf's comfort and health and what is reasonable and economic for you. Such a compromise may seem hard to strike, as you will want to safeguard your future livelihood by doing all you can to ensure the health of your calves.
Fortunately housing your calves does not need to be that stressful, and can be done safely and effectively with very little additional cost. The trick is understanding that a little change can make a lot of difference to a calf's comfort; and whilst there are no hard and fast rules in these matters, there are some guidelines we can offer to give you a hand.
The first thing you need to understand is the environmental conditions that a calf requires, which includes things like space, bedding, water access and so on. To start with we shall mention the few things you will not have to worry too much about:
The things you can do for your calves to improve their comfort are actually quite basic, and work together to provide a number of beneficial effects. Lighting is a big one, as it is important that calves do get some natural light, but making the shelter with too many transparent or translucent materials will affect its ability to keep the heat in. This is why we would suggest constructing some small areas of the shelter's roof with translucent material, which will allow light to enter. You should but also provide dim, artificial lights within the enclosure, but these need not be any lighter than say a reading light.
Water and sleep are immeasurably important to a calf so it is imperative that each calf has access too comfortable bedding, consisting simply of straw and a constant supply of fresh water. When it comes to supplying calves with water the best rule to follow is to supply each calf with the average bucket-full; and re-fill it when it falls below quarter full.
Whilst all of the above are critical, one of the most pressing and regularly overlooked factors is the amount of space afforded to each calf. This can vary depending on how you intend to house your calf: individually or in a group. 1.1 meters squared is the minimum space per calf that should be given to them for the first month of their lives; with it going up between the first and second month of life to 1.8 for individually housed calves and 1.5 for grouped. It is important that, unless the calf is sick or it is suggested to you by a veterinary professional, that no calf is housed individually after the 2 month mark, as this may well hinder their ability to interact socially with other animals.
Calf housing is the third in our four part calving guide series. If you found this helpful to you then why not take a look at our previous posts on Heifer Rearing and Calf Rearing? You can also take a look at our 3-part Ultimate Lambing Guide, which is made up of: The Lead Up To Lambing, Caring For Newborns and Tail Docking.