Give calf facilities a yearly checkup


How easy — or difficult — is it for your calves to thrive?

How easy — or difficult — is it for you and your employees to help your calves thrive?

Now is a great time to assess your calf-raising facilities to see what the current answer to this question is.


We get used to, and accept what is, whether it is good or not.

Or we tend to view our facilities as they were when they were constructed. Fresh, clean, free of baling twine, wire, holes, etc. After 10, 15, or 30 years of heavy use, buildings, stalls and hutches get worn and tired, creating impediments to doing the job right. This potentially leads to poor calf health and care.

During evaluation, keep the basics in mind:

Calves need:

Protection from rain, snow and wind

Shade in the summer


Clean, fresh air

Clean, dry bedding

Easy access to clean feed and water

Workers need:

A labor efficient layout

Easy access to feed, water and bedding

Easy access to the calf

Well-lighted work areas

A good place to prepare liquid feed

Adequate storage for medications and supplies

Pens, stalls and work areas that are easy to clean

Basically, the tools to do the right jobs right.


One of the biggest impediments to calves getting proper care at the proper time is difficulty getting to the calf.

It is too easy for the care giver to leave a calf that isn’t quite right for the next feeder to investigate, when getting into the calf’s pen takes more than 10 seconds. That wasted opportunity can mean the difference between a calf being a bit off or getting seriously ill.

Weather challenges

One of our biggest challenges in calf facility design is dealing with polar opposite weather conditions.

If we always had nice weather, we could plop a shade over some pens and be done with it. If it was always cold, we could always go the hutch route, but would more likely keep employees happier by designing a properly ventilated but more enclosed facility and not have to worry about heat stress.

As it is, Midwest weather demands a compromise, so that we can mitigate heat stress while providing the calf adequate shelter in cold, wet, snowy and windy conditions.

Even hutches, usually considered the gold standard of calf housing, can be messed up. Commercially available hutches may or may not have adequate ventilation for hot weather conditions. Just because someone sells them, doesn’t mean they are properly designed.

The best test? Grab a book and sit in your poorest hutch or pen during a hot afternoon with all of the ventilation ports open. You’ll know in about 30 minutes whether there is enough ventilation and bedding or not.

Ditch the oil tank

I am all for saving money, but some of the homemade versions of hutches I’ve seen can quickly turn into calf roasters if some modifications are not made to introduce or improve ventilation.

The oil tank with one end cut open, which served as a giant bull calf holding pen, was particularly interesting — and probably worked best as an oil tank, not a calf pen.

Look around

Use the questions in the adjacent box to schedule a walk-through in your facilities. You might be surprised: What is, is not necessarily what should be. We make slight changes through a year without even realizing it.

Occasionally, drastic changes may be needed. Frequently little things such as rearranging hutches for easier, more efficient access, storing feed in a different place, buying a new feed wagon, or adding a light here or there may make a large difference in the calf feeding job.


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Dianne Shoemaker is an OSU Extension field specialist in dairy production economics. You can contact her at 330-533-5538 or