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Converting existing sheds for calf housing

Converting existing sheds for calf housing

Whether building a new calf shed from scratch or adapting an existing shed for the purpose of housing calves, there are a number of critical factors to consider.

Joining a Teagasc DairyBeef 500 webinar on Tuesday, January 16th, Martin Kavanagh, a vet and Business Development Manager with Munster Bovine, outlined the important principles to consider when converting a shed for the purpose of calf rearing.

Farmers don’t necessarily have to build a new calf shed, Martin explained, adding: “We can make do if we follow the principles of getting the moisture out, cut down the draught, make sure there is enough air change, and keeping the temperature sorted - particularly for those young calves”.

Every sight, farm and requirement for calf housing is different, he commented, but conversion can work successfully if these principles are followed. The end result is a shed designed to allow for optimal calf performance and health, with the latter being necessary to reduce the requirement for veterinary interventions and antibiotic treatments.

Ventilation

The ventilation system within a calf shed serves to provide clean air – without creating draughts – and to remove pathogens, bugs, moisture and odours, which may have an impact on the calves’ respiratory system. The requirement for an adequate ventilation system is further heightened by research showing that pneumonia is responsible for approximately one-third of calf deaths between one and five months of age.

As part of his presentation, Martin touched on the factors affecting the ventilation of the calf shed, how to limit cold stress on calves, and adaptions farmers can make – including fitting Yorkshire boarding or positive pressure tubes – to improve the ventilation within existing buildings.

For more details on these adaptions, watch Martin’s presentation below:

Temperature and drainage

Along with making ventilation adjustments, Martin touched on the importance of bedding and having adequate drainage to maintain the optimum temperature within the calf shed.

“Wet and  dirty beds are an enormous issue for rearing calves, so keeping that bed dry so it is not having a chilling effect and also getting the moisture away is critical,” Martin said.

During the rearing period, calves require 20kg of straw per week to ‘nest’ into and keep warm. Where an inadequate drainage system is in place, moisture remains within the shed resulting in wet beds and the potential for chills to occur in calves. For the removal of moisture, Martin explained, an adequate drainage system is required. Floor sloops of 5% or 1:20 are necessary to carry moisture away from the beds and out to proper drainage channels.

For farmers considering making adaptions to a shed for calf rearing, Martin encouraged them to seek advice from their vet or an advisor with expertise in the area of calf housing.

The DairyBeef 500 team will host another webinar on Tuesday, January 30th. For further details on this webinar, click here.

Also read: Last-minute adjustments to your calf shed

Also read: Breeding better calves for sale