How Efficient, Well-Designed Facilities Improve Calf Care

10:46AM Nov 20, 2019
Dairy Calves Housing
Raising quality heifers is a priority on every farm.
( Heidi Fischer )

After outgrowing their calf facilities, Heidi Fischer and the team at Fischer-Clark Dairy Farm Inc. in Hatley, Wis., set about deciding what their ideal facility would look like. They’re not alone. In fact, we recently asked readers the one thing they would change about their farm and an over- whelming majority said calf and heifer facilities would be at the top of the list.

“We know that’s where it all begins,” says Heidi Fischer, co-owner of Fischer- Clark dairy. “You can’t expect (to get a) 130-lb. milk cow or greater if you don’t have a good calf barn, and then follow it through with a good heifer facility.” The philosophy at Fischer-Clark dairy is each calf is treated like she’s the next 130-lb. milk cow. To maintain that philosophy Fischer knew they’d need a new facility, not just a revamp of their current barn.

“Before, we were just a two row and we had a normal bi-roofline that just ventilated up to the top,” she explains. “We didn’t have fans, and we could only hold 69 calves in there.” According to Cornell, Pro-Dairy, calf facilities can be old, new, elaborate or simple; but no matter the type they must provide a management and housing system that provides the calf the following five key elements year-round:

  • A dry, comfortable resting area.
  • Good ventilation.
  • Free access to feed and water.
  • Confident footing.
  • Space, so the calves are not overcrowded.

INDIVIDUALIZED CARE

As the farm continued to grow, Fischer and team toured other farms, weighed their options and eventually settled on a mono-slope calf barn using some of the existing concrete of the current facility.

Initially the plans were drawn for the new facility to be an automated calf feeder barn, but at the last minute she and her calf manager pulled the plug and decided to stick to what they believe is their strength: individualized calf care.

“That’s what we do best, and we’re going to make this work,” she says.

With the new barn, they’ve doubled the capacity of their facility to hold 128 calves and eight newborn pens. Surprisingly the expansion hasn’t added much time to the calf feeding shift.

“We doubled the size, it’s now a four row, and we only added one hour of feeding time to that,” she explains.

The mono-slope calf barn at Fischer- Clark is different because it doesn’t have forced air like most facilities. “We just have standard ceiling fans,” Fischer says. “We’re allowing the building to work as it was engineered to do. And we have very tall ceilings, so it allows the air to come up and out through a top curtain area, and it works like a chimney.”

The ceiling fans are present to stir air down at the calf level she explains. Since building the calf facility, Fischer has seen a dramatic decrease in pneumonia and death loss.

“Before, we had a fairly low incidence of respiratory issues, but during wet months we would see a little bit of an increase in the calves we’re treating with Baytril or Draxxin,” she says. “I don’t think I bought a new bottle of Draxxin since we built this barn, it’s just nonexistent.”

PROVEN RESULTS

Another indicator of improved calf health? Faster growing heifers. Once the calves leave the calf barn they go to the farm’s heifer facility. It was recently built too and features 10 pens of 16 heifers, eight on each side with a cross gutter.

“Right after we built the calf barn we built the new young stock heifer facility and had taken measurements on our current animals to accommodate the slant bars and curbs for feeding,” Fischer explains. “Now that the calves are in the new facility, we had to do some remodeling of the facility because the heifers are getting bigger much quicker.”

While it’s a great problem to have, Fischer says she’s had to rework protocols and procedures already in place. “We’re getting larger, healthier animals, so I really can’t complain,” she says.