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Quality Living Space for Calves and Heifers

Posted: August 5, 2006

A good housing system for calves and heifers will provide for the well-being of animals of various ages, promote safe and efficient working conditions for the caretaker, protect the environment and be cost-effective to build and maintain.

The system will provide flexibility to accommodate increasing animal size and age, and also variations in the numbers of animals of any size or age resulting from non-uniform calving intervals and ratios of heifers to bulls. Excellent ventilation (fresh dry air), adequate clean dry resting space and clean confident walking areas are important for all growing animals.

Baby calves are usually kept in individual pens or hutches with excellent air quality where they can be individually fed milk and learn to eat solid feed. Hutches and pens are placed so calves can be near but not in physical contact with their sisters of similar age but away from possible disease transmission by physical contact with older animals or their manure or contaminated air.

After 6-8 weeks of individual care and attention a well bedded group pen for 3 – 8 animals is a good place for calves to get accustomed to group living and sharing eating, drinking and resting space.

Once successfully weaned and off to a good start these young heifers can be graduated through a series of appropriately sized bedded pack barn groups or moved to freestalls or even pastures with adequate shade, water and supplemental feed. Many growers find that freestall barns with varying stall sizes based on the animals weight are a cost effective, animal friendly and labor saving method to raise animals from 500 pounds to one month pre-fresh.

Regardless of how the growing animals are housed the systems should provide the following:

  • Clean, dry and comfortable living conditions
  • Flexibility in grouping to account for variation in calving
  • Grouping by age, weight or feed ration
  • Separate resting and feeding areas
  • Adequate, reachable fresh water
  • Mechanized feeding and manure removal consistent with farm needs
  • Easy care by one person
  • Convenient observation
  • Methods for animal restraint, examination and treatment
Following are space recommendations for bedded resting areas and freestalls:
Weight pounds Bedded Resting Area per animal not including feed alley Closed Front Freestall width x length
New born – 300 30 sq ft Individual hutch or pen Not recommended
300 - 500 40 sq ft Near baby calf area Not recommended
500-700 50 sq ft 34-36" X 60-69"
700 – 900 60 sq ft 38-40" X 75-84"
900 – 1100 70 sq ft 41-43" X 90-96"
1100 – pre-fresh 80 sq ft 43-45" X 96-102"

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Robert E. Graves
Agricultural Biological Engineering Extension