Healthy Calf Housing

Published on Fri, 10/08/2021 - 1:50pm

Healthy Calf Housing.

 By Maura Keller.

 Dotting the landscapes of many dairy farms are calf housing units, which play a vital role in dairy calf rearing. Seen by many within the industry as a necessary expense, today’s calf housing options offer dairy farmers a variety of options for the well-being of calves.

According to Arjan Harbers, sales manager at VDK Products, when farmers and ranchers are evaluating calf housing, they should look for calf housing or hutches that are ideal in blocking the sun to avoid heat stress on young calves. The hutch also needs a smooth inside, without ribs, for optimal cleaning, as the hygiene of these housing units are key for the health of the calves.

“This all for well-being and maximum growth of the calves,” Harbers says. “On the other hand they also have to look for an easy system—one that offers easy cleaning and a user friendly fence.

“A farmer has to work twice a day, 365 days a year with the calf hutch. That’s why it is important to have a user friendly system, to save time in calf rearing,” Harbers says.

The products VDK offers are for young born calves from birth until four months of age. They offer individual and also group housing options, as well as indoor and outdoor calf housing.

“Our bestseller is the VDK-Agri Comfort with a four-part fence. All our hutches are produced out of reinforced polyester,” Harbers says. “Using this material, our hutches  have a completely smooth inside layer, without any ribs. The hutches can be cleaned very well and bacteria can be removed very easily, which gives optimum hygiene. This is very important for the next new calf, which is coming in the hutch.”

VDK-Agri Comfort hutches are developed not only for the well-being of the calf, but also for the ease of use for the farmer. The unit’s four-part fence can be opened in the front and it is possible to lock up the calf in the hutch, for example in the first hours.

“The fence can also be tipped over the hutch, for easy cleaning,” Harbers says. “Big wheels make sure that the farmer can remove the hutch, together with the fence, easily.”

All of VDK-Agri Comfort products that have been developed recently also offer the possibility for pair/group housing including the company’s Hybrid, XL-2, and Open Top Premium Duo products.

As Harbers explains, when you house your calves in small groups, or in pairs, calves will grow faster, because they learn from each other.

“At the end you will have a good developed heifer, which will do it very well as milking cow,” Harbers says. “You will save costs as the calving age is shorter and an optimal developed milking cow will give more milk, resulting in more money.”

Agri-Plastics also focuses on helping farmers “shelter their investment” by providing durable, efficient, and ergonomic calf hutch designs. Founded in 1995 by Darren and Rob VanBuuren,  Agri-Plastics offers group housing, starter pens and flexible calf housing options for dairy producers. Together, the Agri-Plastics team understand that calf housing can have a big impact on the health of a herd. For example, the company’s Flex-Hutch product option offers the ability house two or three calves depending on the producer’s choice of configurations.  

Agri-Plastics’ newest calf hutch is the new Space Saver Hutch, ideal for smaller-sized calves or for shorter growth periods. The SSL Calf Hutch includes a top roof vent, a rear three-in-one door and bottom air flow vents.

Jeff Schwartz at RSI Calf Systems, a division of Riverside Plastics Inc., located in Flemingsburg, Kentucky, has been manufacturing products for the livestock industry since 1987.

RSI offers traditional calf hutches, indoor calf pens, and a super hutch to the dairy industry.

“The calf pen line of products are the best-selling products at this time,” Schwartz says. “The roto molding process we use to manufacture all of our products makes the products as a seamless part that creates a highly durable product.”

RSI calf hutches are also higher in the front than the rear for natural air movement through the vent in the back, and they are easy to clean and lightweight to move, but still strong and durable.

When evaluating any product, Schwartz advises all customers to look at quality, durability, and value. 

“Calf housing is a long-term investment for all farms, and an important part of the future of the dairy herd,” Schwartz says. “As a dairy evaluates the calf housing options available to them, they need to consider the options that different calf raising systems offer them. Every farm has unique circumstances that need to be considered such as existing facilities, labor and finances. All options are not always a good fit for each individual farm, so evaluate your system, and decide what will work best for you.”

Schwartz advises that potential customers need to be cautious as they consider different systems. “The newest product on the market is not always the best option,” Schwartz says. “Evaluate your system, define the goals you have for investment, and analyze why you are considering a change to the system you now have.”

One of the most common mistakes Harbers sees farmers make when it comes to selecting calf housing includes looking first at the price instead of the functions of the hutch. “As I said, a farmer has to work twice a day and 365 days a year with the calf housing, so it is most important to look for a user-friendly housing system instead of only buying based on the price of the system. Our four-part fence is more expensive as a wire fence, but in functionality you cannot compare these two types of fences.”

As the calf housing market evolves, so too will the design of the products. Harbers predicts calf housing will transition more and more to paired or group housing. “This is going to happen for two reasons,” Harbers says. “The voice of the consumer will be more and more important. They want to see groups and no calves alone in a hutch for the well-being of the calves. Also the best growth with your calves is what you want to reach as a farmer and pair or group housing gives better results. This has been proven by research.”

Schwartz also notes that the calf housing market is ever changing, as new technology is on the horizon at all times.

“Be aware of new products being developed, new feeding systems being designed, and new science and research that is being done,” Schwartz says. In the 30 plus years RSI Calf Systems has manufactured calf housing products, the market has changed from calves tied in the barn to plywood pens and hutches, to plastic and fiberglass hutches, to indoor pens of many different designs and materials, to indoor group feeding, and robotic feeding.

“All of these systems work for different situations,” Schwartz says. “Be sure you can identify which system will work best for you.”