Calf care and comfort - a look at bedding

Calf care and comfort - a look at bedding
By Hanneke Officer, Veterinarian, Anexa Vets Gordonton

---We know that some of you may have had supply issues with bedding this season. This article aims to remind you what we are trying to achieve, provided you can get supplies. If you are struggling - talk to your Anexa vet about what you can tweak for better results.---

When it comes to calf shed lay-out and facilities, professionals of the dairy industry have been known to argue until the cows come home – literally. With a multitude of options which all have their pros and cons, it’s not always easy to make the right decision. So, here are some important points to remember:

  • Bedding is generally the same across the calf shed, so put yourself in the newborns hooves, as the most vulnerable of the young ones:
    • Can I be warm in this pen (bedding, draught, sunshine)? Is it dry so I don’t catch a cold?
    • Can I avoid picking up illness from calves in other pens (solid barriers, to reduce infection)
    • Will there be somewhere clean to sleep, after all my mates have done their business?
    • Is the bedding comfortable? I want to be able to sleep on my knees, run around in the pen and maybe occasionally stretch out flat
      This sounds very basic and in truth, IT IS! Would you be happy to sleep in your calf pens? Then so will they. Of course I’m not suggesting building bedding from bed mattresses, but through our profession we see a lot of different set ups and I have had quite sore knees after disbudding calves on stones for example.

  • Examples of types of bedding: Sawdust, bark chip/wood chip, post peelings, straw, river stones
  • Factors to consider with regards to bedding:
    • Will it hold warmth from the sun or be cold underfoot
    • Dust (caused by calves running around)
    • Drainage – will it stay wet after soiling
    • Does it provide a soft surface to sleep on
    • Can I keep it clean or spray it effectively


Here are some more tips to help calf comfort following on from last month:


  • Fix any leaking water troughs (there should be water available in each pen from day 1)
  • Bedding: don’t remove dirty/wet patches, but top up bedding instead. Moving bedding around stirs up the bacteria left by earlier calves. If you smell ammonia, you’ve waited too long!
  • Provide a deep layer of bedding – 20-30 cm to start with prior to topping up.
  • Always provide newborn calves with a clean pen rather than moving them into a pen previously inhabited by other calves

Calves are delicate and need the best care we can give them. To try and optimize the genetic potential you’re aiming for in the herd, these calves need the best start in life. If you’re unsure of your facilities, think you can do better or simply want someone to cast their eye over and make suggestions, please contact the clinic for a calf rearing facility check up, we can help get those better results you’re after.


Date Added: Wednesday, 1st July 2020


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