25 August 1995

New house beats disease

By Jonathan Riley

CUMBRIAN farmer Barry Miller lost up to 30 calves a year through disease before investing in a purpose-built rearing shed.

He rears replacements for his 120-cow herd at Tarn Lodge, Heads Nook, Carlisle. Continental crosses are reared and sold at Carlisle.

Calves are bucket fed with surplus milk twice a day, and offered ad-lib hay and fresh water. "We used to rear calves in a byre in batches of 10," says Mr Miller. "Once disease broke out it spread to the whole pen."

"We were also using antibiotics to control disease which was expensive, so our vet advised us to put up a new building. Since it went up we have had no losses through pneumonia or salmonella.

Nick Scholefield of ADAS Penrith advised the Miller family on building design. He says: "Housing calves in a well-ventilated, dry and disease-free environment is vital to reduce mortality."

The new portal framed building measures 32m x 7.5m (105ft x 25ft), is 2.4m (8ft) to the eaves, and 4m (13ft) to the ridge. A block wall divides the building in two. The smaller area at 13.5m x 7.5m (45ft x 25ft) houses calves in 46 individual pens up to six weeks. At weaning they are are put into one of eight pens in batches of 15 for three months.

The building lies east to west with the batch pens on the west side where the gable end is divided into two large doors 3m x 1.8m (10ft x 6ft) and a smaller central door 1.5m x 1.6m (5ft x 6ft). Above the doors and across the width of the end a flap 0.6m (2ft) high can be opened. Yorkshire boarding is used up to the ridge.

"In still, hot weather, we open the ends of the building and the door in the block wall to allow air right through," says Mr Miller. Further ventilation is provided by a window in each bay of the portal frame, and an open ridge. In the individual pens area, ventilation can be helped by two induction fans one in each side wall.

"Because we have positioned the building with the gable ends directly into the prevailing wind we rarely have to use the fans," he says. "But this summer, the fans have come in useful.

"As for individual pen design, ADAS advised us to use metal because salmonella bugs can survive in wood.

"To prevent calves transferring disease up the pen rows, we opted for solid metal sides of about 1.2m (4ft) high and positioned pen rows about 1m (3.3ft) apart," says Mr Miller.

Drainage channels have been put in to remove effluent and spilt milk.

Mr Scholefield says: "Adequate drainage must be installed to remove liquid from beneath pens and buckets. Floors should have a gradient of about 1 in 20. "Good drainage keeps bedding dry, reducing heat loss from the calf and can reduce straw usage by a third."

Barry Miller:No losses through pneumonia or salmonella since using a purpose-built calf building.