Calf rearing facilities – a few small changes can make a huge difference

Calf rearing facilities – a few small changes can make a huge difference
The majority of New Zealand dairy farms do not have dedicated calf rearing facilities. Instead, sheds are “retrofitted” for the three or so months that calf rearing activities are taking place. As a result, structures are temporary and designed as such. However, just because the set-up is temporary, does not mean that sensible, simple design features for biosecurity cannot be put in place.

For the first 2 months of life, a calf’s immunological system is underdeveloped and naïve, hence the reliance on adequate quality and quantity of colostrum in the first 12 hours of life. Minimising bacterial exposure in the first three weeks of life is especially important to assist the slowly developing immune system. Limiting bacterial exposure is all about the quantity of bacteria in the immediate environment of the calf so here are a few design tricks to assist you as the calf area is prepared for this calving season:
  • If gates or mesh are being used for the calf pen walls, take some additional time to cover the wire in something that is hard to penetrate through like shade cloth. This is a cheap way of ensuring that transfer of calf faeces between pens is less likely. Calves that can easily defecate between pens also increases the risk of cross contamination.
  • Know which area is going to be used for sick calves; identify this area at the start of the season and make extra sure that there are solid barriers between this pen and the “healthy” calf pens.
  • Make a biosecurity plan for feeding; consider having dedicated gumboots and overalls in the calf shed too. This will immediately cut down on cross contamination from the adult herd. Have a wash area where boots and feeding containers and stomach tubes can be cleaned and disinfected.
  • Prepare the bedding base so that drainage is as good as possible. Most farms rely on some sort of deep bedding system (e.g. straw or sawdust) but the required turnover of these materials can be decreased by having a drainage system in the foundation layer of the pens. It may be as simple as scoria or crushed rock allowing drainage away from the underside of the bedding material.
Simple steps in the initial setup of the calf rearing are will greatly assist with biosecurity and reducing the amount of bacterial exposure for the least robust, but very important members of the herd; your calves.

Date Added: Wednesday, 6th June 2018