How to Choose the Proper Calf Pens

Three young calves in a calf pen

There are four principles for good calf pen management: comfortability, low health risk, the opportunity for seclusion, and convenience. A pen needs to be comfortable so there’s a lower level of stress for the dam. Low health risk, the opportunity for seclusion, and convenience all have their obvious benefits.

The old way of bringing calves to a clean, dry pasture, while effective, is no longer viable for many dairy farmers, as their operations now occur indoors. That leaves calf pens as one of the most important places on a dairy farm, but what factors should you consider when purchasing a new calf pen setup?


Calf Comfort and Access

Calves need to maintain comfort in a dry, draft-free environment. Their optimal temperature is between 45° and 80° Fahrenheit, as they can maintain a relatively constant body temperature in that range. Supplemental heat may be necessary to reduce temperature fluctuations during the winter and likewise during the summer with a supplemental cooling system.

Flooring should also be considered, as concrete, rubber mats, sand, and slatted floors all result in net energy loss from the calf and could even prevent resting. Additional consideration must also be given to the level of relative humidity, as optimal calf development occurs between 50 and 70%. Because temperature and humidity are so important during calf development, facility design should include the ability to adjust for both.


Ventilation and Air Flow

A good calf pen ventilation system provides fresh air, removes harmful airborne organisms, minimizes dust, eliminates noxious odors, and removes excess moisture and heat—all without causing a draft. Ventilation requirements change with age and mustn’t be compromised upon. Calves up to 2 months old need 100 cubic feet per minute (CFM) of air during the summer, 50 CFM in more mild weather, and 15 CFM during the winter. From 2-12 months, calves need 130 CFM during the summer, 60 CFM during more mild weather, and 20 CFM during the winter. If you have an open-front facility, you’ll need a ridge opening for warm, wet air to move out of the building.


Calf Pen Isolation

For the first two weeks after weaning, it’s important to isolate young calves to prevent the transmission of diseases. Each individual calf pen needs to meet calf comfort standards and should be regarded as a micro-environment within the overall facility.

While the tops and ends of calf pens should be open, the sides should separate one calf pen from the next with a solid panel to prevent nose-to-nose contact. Calf pens intended for calves up to 2 months old should be 30 square feet per animal. After they’ve been weaned and isolated for two weeks, calves should be grouped by age and size, with 3-5 animals per group. Once they reach 4 months, groups of 6-12 are acceptable, but it’s incredibly important that no overcrowding occurs.

If you’ve got more questions regarding calf pen sizing and pricing, contact the calf pen experts at Carlson Wholesale. We have a litany of different calf pens and former industry professionals excited to find your calves the best housing possible.

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