Housing Young Calves

All too often young calves are housed somewhere that is just either convenient for feeding, or unsuitable for larger cattle rather than in a facility designed for their specific needs. In this blog we will discuss the particular needs of young calves and highlight the importance of hygiene on a milk-fed system.

Wind Speed

  • Calves are very susceptible to the chilling effects of draughts
  • Even very mild draughts of a few miles an hour will chill calves
  • Drafts reduce feed conversion efficiency and increase susceptibility to disease
  • A 5mph draught will reduce the ‘effective’ temperature by 8°C
  • Calves should be protected from draughts by solid barriers that extend to the level of the floor so they can shelter
  • In exposed buildings consider creating protected areas for young calves

Fresh Air

  • Stale, stagnant air that is contaminated with dust, moisture, ammonia and viruses can be dangerous to calves
  • This contamination can cause pneumonia and needs to be removed and replaced by fresh air
  • Unfortunately young calves often do not generate sufficient heat to drive the stack effect
  • Ventilating calf buildings with fans, if designed and sited appropriately can ensure a ready supply of fresh air


  • High moisture levels in calf sheds promote the survival of harmful bacteria and viruses
  • Damp sheds are also colder than dry ones
  • Prevent moisture entering from outside the building
  • Promote the removal of moisture generated from inside the building
  • Create good drainage
  • Use plenty of absorbent bedding
  • Sweep or scrape pooled moisture from a building


The calf-rearing industry could learn a lot from the cleaning and disinfection procedures adopted by the pig and poultry sectors where cleansing and disinfection is crucial. Bacteria and viruses are present in large numbers on all farms, and the diseases they and other germs cause are common and costly. Without proper cleaning and disinfection the germ-load will increase in calf buildings, and disease can easily spread from calf to calf from contamination in their environment. Ideally, all-in-all-out pens (and ideally buildings as well) should be utilised.

  • Very few units have the facilities to allow all in/all-out systems
  • Germs such as bacteria and viruses will accumulate in calf pens
  • Try to design calf pens so that, as a minimum, pens can be emptied and cleaned prior to new animals coming in
  • Materials used for calf pens should be easily cleaned and disinfected
  • Materials such as metal or plastic are more easily cleaned
  • Flooring – ensure that the surface has no cracks or pits that are hard to clean
  • Drinkers and feeders should also be able to be emptied and cleaned between batches
Cleansing & Disinfecting
  • Remove all organic matter prior to cleaning and disinfection
  • Thoroughly remove all bedding material
  • Final removal of organic matter with pressure or steam cleaner
  • Using a pressure washer in an occupied building can increase disease risk for remaining calves
  • Try to remove pen fixtures for cleaning in a separate airspace to other calves
  • Use a recommended disinfectant at the correct concentration on all surfaces that calves can touch
  • Where surfaces are cracked or damaged or porous and difficult to clean, apply a greater concentration of disinfectant to these areas
  • Allow pens to dry out prior to new arrivals
  • The use of individual hutches allows for thorough cleaning and disinfection between calves and keeps the build-up of germs to a minimum

For more information on the best calf rearing practices contact one of our calf specialists or visit your local store

Information provided by Volac, Feed For Growth.

[1] Housing for Young Calves Guide

[2] Hygiene for the Milk-Fed Calf Guide

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