The last lecture dealt with the feeding of the calf after it had been taken away from its dam. This concise lecture focuses on how the calf should be housed. Once the calf has been taken away from its dam, it should be put into a small pen by itself, and not in a pen with other calves. The reasons for this are:

  • A calf on its own is much easier to feed with milk from a bucket; for example, trying to feed six calves in a pen with six buckets of milk all at the same time is a difficult operation, because they drink each other’s milk, tip over the buckets and generally make life difficult.
  • When calves are fed on milk, particularly when they are getting only a small amount, once they have finished drinking their milk, they will suckle each other because their suckling instinct has been aroused by the milk, but they have not been satisfied. Suckling each other is a bad practice, as they suck and swallow hair, and this can cause hair-balls in their stomachs.
  • Young calves are fairly susceptible to disease, and if they are kept apart there is less chance of diseases spreading from one to another. If they are together in a pen, suckling each other after every feed, can lead to the spread of disease very quickly to one another.
  • The calf in a single pen cannot be bullied by others, and is not disturbed by them. They are quieter to handle and grow better.

All dairy farms have a calf house for rearing calves, and this should be a weather-proof building which will keep the rain and draughts out. Putting a calf in a small pen with a draught whistling through it is a sure way of killing it quite quickly. The building does not have to be a elaborate structure, as long as the calves are kept warm and dry. Good ventilation is essential.

The floor plan for a calf house is shown below, with single pens on the right side, and follow-on pens on the left which can be used for calves after they have been weaned off milk.

Figure 1: A Floor Plan of a Calf House, with Singular and Grouping Pens

The pens should be 1.5 metres long by 0.6 metres wide with a holder for the bucket at the front. They can be made of brick or wood, and should have a slatted floor to allow the dung and urine to drain away. For the first few days that the calf is in the pen, it is a good idea to put some straw bedding on the floor, but after about a week, the calf will be able to lie on the slats without any bedding. An example of this type of pen is shown in figure 2:

Figure 2: A Calf House

Source: johnstoncalfpens

This is a large calf house holding up to 50 calves, and most dairy farms would not require so many pens. However, you can see the pens with the hay racks and bucket holders, with a feeding passage down the middle of the house. These pens are inexpensive to make and can be completely dismantled for cleaning. A better type of pen is shown below, better, because it has solid walls and the calves cannot make contact with each other. Again, the pens can be dismantled for cleaning, and this is an important matter, as pens must be thoroughly cleaned after the calves have been moved out, and before the next calf is put into the pen.

Figure 3: A Close View of a Calf Rearing Pen


Figure 4: Below Shows a Calf in a Pen with Some Bedding on the Slatted Floor

Source: johnstoncalfpens

Figure 5: These pens are quite easily made from timber, and the dimensions are given below: This is the side of a single pen, and can also be the back of two pens

Figure 6: This is the front of the pen with the bucket holder. The sides and front can be fastened together with baling string or wire for easy dismantling.

Yet another alternative is a calf crate for rearing young calves. These are made of metal, and are raised well clear of the ground. The floor is of metal mesh, and all the dung and urine can escape onto the floor which can be hosed down every day. The sides of the crate are of metal mesh so that the calf can see its neighbour but cannot suckle its ears. The front has two sections, one for the feeding bucket, which is filled with clean water after feeding the milk, and a trough for concentrate. The sections are divided by a metal plate to avoid water getting onto the concentrate.

These crates can be set up in the calf house. For a 100 cow dairy herd calving throughout the year, six crates are all that will be needed to rear replacement heifer calves for the herd.

The crates can be made on the farm, and last for a long time. They are easy to dismantle and clean, and when not in use, can be stored in a small space.

  Figure 7: The plan of the crates is shown below