Calf hutches may keep pneumonia at bay

Calf health is central to producing well-grown, productive replacements. So seeing 70% of calves fall foul of pneumonia forced a Wiltshire farmer into action.

Calving 300 cows year round at Stockton Dairy, Codford, means there is constant pressure on calf housing. When herd manager, Graham Carter called out vet Pieter Venter, Endell Vet Group, Salisbury, to assess the problem, he identified poor ventilation and group housing of mixed ages as the main factors effecting growth and causing disease.

“Although group-housed calves were all vaccinated for major diseases, including pneumonia, we didn’t realise building design could be such a limiting factor,” says Mr Carter.

“Even though the building was large, the closed ridge and high surrounding trees meant air flow was restricted and this was evident by the smell of ammonia.”

With 70 calves of mixed ages in the building at one time, pens were always fully stocked and calf stress was a problem.

On entering the building, the four-day-old calves with undeveloped immune systems were not only exposed to new bugs, but were also under stress from being in mixed groups. This meant pneumonia levels increased and growth was often checked.


Herd manager Graham Carter says using outdoor hutches has improved the overall health of calves at Stockton Dairy

After researching alternative housing measures and visiting a local farm where calf hutches were being used successfully, new youngstock manager, Tom Moore, suggested buying in hutches. “The main problem in the old calf shed was when one calf became ill, they all became ill. After seeing individual calf hutches working well we decided to invest in 24 hutches as a test run.

“We spent a lot of time thinking about where best to place the new housing while considering wind, drainage and sunlight,” says Mr Moore. “Luckily, we are in a relatively sheltered position, so wind is not too much of a problem. We decided on a hardcore and chalk-based standing to maximise drainage.”

Since installing the hutches four months ago, pneumonia and cryptosporidium have been eliminated. “We are extremely pleased with the results so far. Although it is still early days, we expect to see huge savings in terms of vet and medical costs and improved growth rates, which will no doubt justify our investment of £253 a hutch.” Hutches are topped up with straw every day and power washed and disinfected between calves.

“Housing calves separately means it is a lot easier to keep track of individual calves,” says Mr Moore. “It also gives huge peace of mind that the risk of disease spread has been reduced. We are now turning out better quality Holstein Fresian dairy heifers which will prosper in the dairy herd.”

Calves are moved to the hutches at four days old and stay here until 11 weeks when they are moved into the old building, “We still use the old building to house the bigger calves, but because they are that much older and stronger they are able to cope with the problems,” says Mr Moore. “When the weather allows, we aim to open up the raised ridge to improve ventilation.”

The Calf-Tel hutches have been such a success that Mr Carter will be investing in 10 more and moving the housing to a more permanent site near the dairy.