Winter Calf Housing: 6 Ways to Prepare Now

Winter Calf Housing: 6 Ways to Prepare Now
11/16/2017

Here are six ways to prepare now:

1. Draft a plan and train employees

It all starts with a plan. Outline the specifics of your winter calf feeding, bedding, health, cleaning and sanitizing, weaning and newborn care protocols. Evaluate what changes are needed and how to execute these changes.

Once you have a plan in place, train employees on calf management protocols. Explaining why these protocols are in place is an important part of employee training – cold stress in young calves can negatively impact growth and immune function. Proper management is key to reducing the impact of cold stress and improving calf performance throughout winter.

2. Assess hutch condition

Maintaining hutches in cold and snowy weather isn’t fun. A pre-winter check to assess calf hutch condition can help reduce labor and maintenance needs in cold weather. Although calf hutches require little maintenance, it’s good to inspect latches and hardware on bedding doors and vents, bucket and bottle holders and fences.

Now is also a good time to assess your hutch location. Check placement to prevent wind and snow drifts from entering hutches and evaluate anchor points to keep hutches secured to the ground.

3. Stock up on bedding

One of the biggest winter challenges is keeping calves warm and dry. Providing additional bedding helps calves stay warm and maintain body temperature. Optimal winter bedding should be deep enough to cover calves’ legs completely when lying down. Developing bedding protocols now will help protect calves from cold stress when winter weather arrives.

It’s also important to make sure bedding is clean and dry. Set protocols to visually and physically inspect bedding every day. A good rule of thumb is to check bedding in the hutches at the end and middle of each row. Remember to minimize the amount of time bedding doors are open to reduce calves’ exposure to weather conditions. Large bedding doors are great for easy access and efficient bedding.

4. Get calf jackets ready

Calf jackets help maintain body temperature in calves up to 3 weeks old. Newborn Holstein calves have a thermoneutral zone, or comfortable temperature range, of 50 to 78ºF. When the outside temperature drops below this range, the calf diverts energy from growth and immune function to maintain its core body temperature.

Before winter hits, gather all calf jackets and check if they are clean, dry and in good condition. And make sure you have enough jackets for the entire season. Calf jackets are a seasonal product and may run out later in the season, so order new jackets early.

5. Double check ventilation

Calf housing ventilation is crucial, especially in winter. Moisture levels naturally drop, but at the same time, ammonia buildup can increase as calf facilities are closed to keep calves warm. Evaluating your indoor calf housing ventilation system now gives you time to adjust or upgrade before cold weather hits. For optimum calf ventilation, there should be a minimum of four air changes per hour.

Closing or covering vents on outdoor hutches can also trap stagnant air inside and increase airborne bacterial counts. Keep hutch vents open to allow air exchange to remove bacteria and ammonia buildup.

6. Protect feed buckets

We’ve all experienced frozen buckets and know how frustrating they are. Feeding excess water or starter at one time can cause buckets to freeze, preventing calves from accessing enough nutrition throughout the day. Adjust winter feeding protocols to feed smaller amounts more frequently to avoid frozen buckets and keep feed fresh throughout the day.

Protecting feed buckets from the elements also helps keep feed dry and reduces contamination from snow and other debris. Hutches with the option to store feed buckets inside are ideal for keeping feed dry. Protective coverings are also available for outdoor buckets to help save feed and reduce contaminants.

Don’t let winter weather get you down. Early preparation will help reduce calf housing challenges and give you peace of mind when cold weather hits.

By Brandon Sowder for Progressive Dairyman, published on 13 September 2017

Tags: Calf Health, Winter