Dairy farmer creates unique Roundhouse for calf rearing

A dairy farmer has modified a Roundhouse to rear replacement dairy heifer calves in a stress-free, low disease challenge environment, resulting in longer lifetime milk production.

Chris McDonald from Bays Leap Farm in Newcastle says this housing is responsible for his homebred heifers joining the milking herd aged 23 months. This extra month’s milk production was worth £270 a heifer (30 litres at 30p/l).

The system consists of two separate Roundhouses. The first is used for calving and is unique in the UK with its integrated mini-parlour. 

The calves are then moved to the second Roundhouse for rearing. 

The shell of the building cost Mr McDonald £55,000, but with the additional handling system, electrics and concrete, total cost for the calf-rearing Roundhouse was £150,000. 

See how the Roundhouse system works for rearing calves. Chris McDonald installed the first Roundhouse in 2011. 

The first roundhouse

Yorkshire boarded panels can be added for extra protection against harsh weather. 

Lifting panels on to the roundhouse

The second Roundhouse was finished in March 2014 and is the only one in the UK to have an integrated milking parlour. 

Bird's-eye-view of the roundhouse

The second building houses dry cows through to one week post calving.

 Inside the roundhouse

Calves are separated from their dams as soon as possible after calving. The cows are milked and colostrum is collected. 

Milking in the roundhouse

The colostrum is fed immediately to the calf. 

Feeding the calves with colostrum

Calves stay in the second Roundhouse and are fed freshly collected milk for the next five days. 

Calves feeding

At one week old calves are moved into the other Roundhouse, which has been modified to include a calf igloo.

The igloo outside the roundhouse

The igloo creates a micro-climate which protects the youngest calves from draughts. 

Calves inside the igloo

The calves quickly learn to use the automatic feeder under close supervision.

 Calf entering the feeder

As the calves grow they are moved anti-clockwise around each section of the Roundhouse. 

The sections in the roundhouse

The central handling pen facilitates easy management of the calf groups, for example, veterinary checks or bedding up safely. 

The sections in the roundhouse

The steers leave the Roundhouse at two months old for rearing off-farm. The heifers leave at six months old for rearing and return shortly before they calve at 23 months.

Calves in the roundhouse

Chris McDonald (centre), vet Jo Bates (left) and herdswoman Cat Green (right). 

Chris McDonald (centre), vet Jo Bates (left) and herdswoman Cat Green (right

Can you improve your calf housing? Take our Winter Health Academy and earn valuable CPD points.