Numerous scientific studies have shown the benefits of using calf coats in the colder winter months.
As well as improving weight gain in young calves that aren’t yet able to regulate their own body temperature, they can provide calves with more energy to fight off infection.
But, with so many now on the market, how do you decide which to use?
We carried out a trial on my home farm in Shropshire to separate the good from the bad and mediocre.
See also: Calf bottles and tube feeders on test
Although we weigh our dairy calves every fortnight, we didn’t think it would be scientifically robust to compare growth rates. This is because we only tried one or two jackets from each company.
Instead, we reviewed the following key areas:
- Robustness (each jacket was machine-washed after each use)
- How easy they were to put on and how well they stayed on
It’s by no means an exhaustive list of what’s on the market. For instance, Equifleece jackets were out of stock for a long period, so we were unable to test these.
Here’s the verdict from our three calf rearers:
1. OHG Calf Coats – Best value for money
These come with durable metal buckles and adjustable straps, meaning they can be easily made to fit smaller calves.
The belly straps cross over for a snug fit and the two adjustable leg straps are fastened with plastic clips.
They are made of a very hardwearing, waterproof material (210 denier) and contains a 200g filling which feels very warm.
The most recent update includes a neck cover which can be folded back. We opted for the small size, but the coat was a bit snug, so if you have Holsteins I’d choose the larger size. Priced very competitively.
Verdict: 4.5/5 Best value for money
Price: Available in small (70cm) and large (80cm). Wash at 40C. From Witter Farm Supplies, Crewe (Tel: 01270 252001). £19.50 a jacket excluding VAT (offers available for multiple purchases).
These are like the catwalk equivalent of Chanel for dairy calves – one of the nicest-looking jackets on the market by far. But, sadly, they are not very practical.
One ripped within the first week and the hook-and-loop fastenings attracted hair and straw, so they didn’t stay together very well.
Of all the jackets we tried, the calves seemed to wriggle out of these the most and it was tricky to figure out which way up they went, although it was super quick to fasten the straps.
After a few washes, the coats were visibly deteriorating and lost their thickness. Only water-repellent with a thin, fleeced underlayer.
Price: Comes in two sizes – small and standard, both £22 excluding VAT. Wash at 30C. Dairy Scope, Bicton Heath (Tel: 01743 850 951).
3. Cosy Calf – Editor’s pick
These have been in use at the farm for years and are a firm favourite. The manufacturer boasts long life and that’s exactly what you get with these jackets.
The belly straps have easy-to-adjust plastic clips and the breast strap is a small hook-and-loop fastening area (one slight weakness) with a plastic clip over the top.
The leg straps are elasticated but also come with an adjustable metal clip and are very hardwearing in comparison to other elasticated leg straps we tried.
There’s a plastic coating on the neck to prevent chafing. The outer shell is a heavyweight and durable polyester fabric which is water repellent, and these coats can be washed at a higher temperature than the others.
Verdict: 4.5/5 Editor’s pick
Price: Wash at 50C. Available in small and large sizes for Jerseys and Holsteins. £22 each excluding VAT.
All adjustable straps are made from robust metal hooks and eyes for the belly and neck and there are two dog clips for the leg straps.
One calf feeder noted that metal clips, while more robust, are trickier to put back on when weighing calves than the plastic clips. But, on the plus side, you would hope the metal would last longer.
Thinner material compared to the OHG coat, but still a good item.
Price: £25 excluding VAT plus postage (postage included for orders over 10). Available in sizes small (65cm neck to tail) and large (72cm).
5. Kerbl calf coat
We’ve had these coats a long time, but other coats have left them behind. Made from polyester and polyurethane, they feel very thin compared with their competitors.
The neck is fastened with hook-and-loop, which doesn’t stick well. There is only one (plastic) belly buckle and both leg buckles are plastic, too. The plastic straps are all adjustable.
It claims to maintain heat through a foam layer and is water-resistant (up to 5,000mm) but we thought these didn’t offer a lot of protection for our calves in hutches.
They might be better suited to a housed system.
Price: Wash at 40C, £30 excluding VAT
Very similar design to the Cosy Calf coat, however, they do feel a lot thinner. Easy to take on and off with adjustable plastic straps.
However, the leg straps are made of a stretchy nylon material but are not adjustable. We found we had to tie them in knots to make them fit well enough.
Also, the straps were fraying after washing, which has not happened with the Cosy Calf jackets.
Price: Wash at 30C. Available in small (70cm, £20 plus VAT) and large (80cm, £23 plus VAT) from Wynnstay (discounts available on bulk orders).
7. Animac calf coat
This is a robust coat that fits well. There are two adjustable belly straps and leg straps that clip together using plastic clips, while the front attachment is a mix of hook-and-loop and plastic clip.
To avoid mixing up the belly straps and crossing them over the grey goes to grey and black to black (clever little design).
The outside is made from a very durable polyester, which is waterproof, but the leg straps have started to fray a little. The legs straps can be adjusted if you have longer animals.
Price: Comes in four sizes (small for twins, 56cm; Jersey, 60cm; Large Holstein, 70cm; and extra-large beef, 80cm). Wash at 40C. £22 excluding VAT. Discounts available on bulk orders
8. Carr’s Billington calf jacket
All plastic, adjustable straps. Waterproof outside layer up to 3,000mm of rainfall and a 200g quilted fill.
We used a large (76cm) but it also comes in medium (70cm) and small (60cm). The large size was pretty big for our Holstein calves so I’d recommend getting a size smaller.
Overall, a good, thick and robust coat.
Price: £20 plus VAT, available from Carr’s Billington