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Virginia Cooperative Extension - Knowledge for the CommonWealth

Pre-Weaned Calf Housing Considerations I

Dairy Pipeline: March 2007

Tina Horn
Extension Agent, Augusta County
(540) 245-5750;


We all know the importance of getting a fresh cow off to a good start, but what about her calf? Getting this future herd replacement started well is equally important, but sometimes overlooked because we do not see the immediate payback. Making sure the calf gets enough high quality colostrum in a timely manner is a critical first step. Where does she go from there? The environment you place this newborn calf in is also very important. Facilities for newborn calves don’t need to be fancy; they just need to provide some basics in order for the calf to be comfortable and healthy. Calves need a clean, dry resting area which is draftfree and adequately ventilated. These calves also need access to high quality grain and clean, fresh water.

A clean, dry resting area helps the calf to maintain a fluffed hair coat which provides protection from the cold. A wet, dirty, or matted hair coat provides no insulation for the calf and energy thatcould have been used for weight gain will instead be used to stay warm. A generous supply of bedding will provide a comfortable resting area and absorb moisture, keeping it away from the calf.

At times it is hard to resist the temptation to close in those calf pens to keep the cold air out. Air exchange is needed to keep the area from building up high concentrations of gases from manure, urine, dusts, and pathogens. Improper ventilation can cause respiratory problems, reduce feed intake, rate of gain and have other long term effects. But in order to have high quality air exchange, there needs to be high quality air surrounding the facility. Locating newborn calf housing away from mature animals and“compromised” air is an important step in ensuring clean, fresh air for the calf.


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