About 1.5 million calves are reared annually in New Zealand, both as dairy replacements and for the bull beef industry.
The correct care of these animals is vital, from both an animal welfare and an economic stand point. They are after all a valuable part of the farm business.
When it comes to how calves are housed, fed and handled, DairyNZ suggests a good question farmers should ask is: “Would you swap places with your calves?”
Obviously most humans wouldn’t want to sleep in barn and be fed almost exclusively on milk, but that aside, if the overall answer to the question is ‘no’ – farmers need to re-think their calf-rearing facilities and management.
Having the right person to rear the calves and ensuring they have resources and support to do the job well is a first important step.
Rearing calves requires skill, attention to detail and empathy with the calves.
The best calf-rearer is someone who actually wants to do the job, not someone who is directed to do it. Ensure they have the time and support they need to do the job well.
The calf shed should be dry and draught-free. There needs to be airflow at a high level but no draught at calf height – a lighted match shouldn’t blow out when lit among the calves.
Calf sheds should face towards the sun. Sunlight dries out and helps sterilise the shed.
Purpose-built calf sheds can have a UV resistant plastic roof and shade cloth/fabric walls, which can be rolled up for better ventilation.
If building a new shed, consider drainage under the calf shed – and design the shed so milk/colostrum can be piped or gravity fed.
Install swinging gates with self-closing latches and a raised collection pen or ramp for loading and unloading calves.
Avoid sharp edges, nails, tin or any small gaps where calves can get their heads or hooves stuck.
Calves need a minimum of 1.5m2 per calf. The smaller the available area per calf, the messier the shed and the more fresh bedding that will need to be added.
All calves, including bobbies, must have access to clean fresh drinking water at all times.
Some calf sheds successfully use grating –as long as there is no draught coming up through it.
Ensure bedding is topped up regularly or replaced with fresh material – untreated shavings, sawdust or bark chips are ideal. Concrete might be easy to clean but it is cold and slippery.
Regularly, at least weekly, spray surfaces at calf level – pen fittings, walls, gates, floors/bedding with a virucide disinfectant.
Have a separate area designated for sick calves to minimise disease spread. Clean out the calf shed at the end of the calf rearing season, rather than just before the start of the next season. This allows time for sunlight to sterilise the shed.
(Source: Factsheet from a series at www.nzcalfrearing.com. Published by On-Farm Research. While all due care has been taken in preparing this document, On-Farm Research and Dairy NZ accept no liability. People acting on this information do so at their own risk).