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Planning for the calving season: Cheap solutions to common issues


Currently dairy farmers all over the country will be starting or preparing for a busy calving season. Nicholas McKenna, Teagasc Dairy Specialist outlines solutions to two problems which may occur during calving - not enough space to calve cows and not enough accommodation for calves.

Currently dairy farmers all over the country will be starting or preparing for a busy calving season. As, with every year, some farms are more prepared than others, it is important to remember that even those less prepared have options available to them to allow the calving season to run smoothly.

The main areas in which pinch points or issues can occur are the following:

  • Not enough space to calve cows.
  • Not enough accommodation for calves.

Understanding the problems

As previously covered, it is important for farmers to plan ahead so they realise the number of cows that will be calving at any one time, the peak number of calves on the farm, the calving space available and the calf accommodation available.

Scanning and breeding results will show farmers their predicted calving spread and this along with their sales strategy will allow them to calculate the peak calves on the farm.

In relation to calving areas it is recommended that there is place for at least 10% of the herd at any one time and 10m2 space is required/cow. Therefore a 100 cow herd requires place for 10 cows which means a calving area of at least 100m2 is needed.

For calves, a floor space/calf of 1.7m2 is required along with 7m3 air space. For example, a compact calving 100 cow farm selling calves at 4 weeks of age may have 65 calves on the farm at peak, they then require 111m2 floor space and 455m3 air space for their calves.

Solutions for calving space

As calving season is upon us building a shed is not a viable option for this spring, so on farm solutions and thinking outside the box may be required.

If a farmer finds they do not have enough space to calve cows on a solid floor a few options are available. If there is an empty silage pit or dung stead on the farm this could be repurposed using gates and wood chip/straw to create an outdoor calving area to relieve pressure on the existing calving facilities. There are farmers calving cows all over the country on woodchip so it is a fairly safe option once cows are teat sealed and all run off is caught to adhere to nitrates regulations.

Other options such as bedding the drafting area or part of a slatted shed should also be considered as calving cows on cubicles or bare slats should be avoided at all costs.

Solutions for calf accommodation

If accommodation or space for calves is the issue a farmer may have to reduce the age at sale of calves to reduce the peak calf numbers. A 100 cow dairy farm reducing the age of sale from 6 weeks to 2 weeks could potentially reduce the peak number of calves by >35 which would be a huge pressure reduction on calf accommodation and labour.

If age at sale isn’t the issue the farmer will then have to consider either turning an existing shed on the farm/out-farm into calf accommodation or, like the cows, if there is a silage pit/dung stead empty it could be used to put calf hutches on. Hutches are a great way to increase calf accommodation relatively cheaply, group calf hutches which hold 5-7 calves are available from €1,100 - €1,300 and can be put on a solid base and provide great shelter along as well as improved calf health.

It is important to address these issues as cow and calf health is paramount on farms, not every farm is perfect, but with a bit of planning and thinking there are solutions available for all farms and all issues they may experience.