By Dr. Becky Brotzman, DVM, University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Veterinary Medicine associate outreach specialist
Q: We are considering building a roof over our hutches to keep the area in front of them dry during periods of rain and snow. Would you recommend this?
A: Calf hutches are currently the “gold standard” for successful, individual calf care, providing a clean, isolated environment while still allowing the calf the freedom to regulate its own environment to some degree with a fenced-in area or an appropriate tether in front of the hutch. However, hutches certainly do pose challenges when the weather is wet – particularly for the people taking care of calves.
As calves in hutches already have a roof over their heads, it is not recommended to add an additional roof above the hutch as it will limit ventilation. Calf hutches rely on wind to ventilate, so although a roof would decrease the rain and snow falling in front of the hutches, it will also limit fresh air delivery to calves inside. This could be particularly problematic in the summer, when ventilation rates must be much higher to deal with heat, and when we already need to prop up hutches on cinder blocks to allow more wind to enter the hutch.
You can do a few different things to keep calves drier in hutches in wet weather. As Ann demonstrated in this video from a previous edition of Starting Strong, when snow is expected, pull the front fence panel back against the hutch to keep the calves inside, prevent buckets from filling with snow, and make it easier for a skid loader to drive through and move snow. In addition, this quick tip provides an easy way to protect grain pails from filling with rain or snow.
The base on which you set your hutches can also help decrease the mess caused by rain and snow, as well as keep bedding drier. Set the hutches on a well-drained base, such as pea gravel that is 15 inches deep and covers a drain tile line to an appropriate collection point. The draining base will help you provide calves with a deep bed of fluffy, dry straw to help them maintain their body heat. Calf jackets are also helpful, but calves still need to “nest” to prevent heat loss. For the area in front of the hutches, a concrete or asphalt road that can again be quickly cleaned is ideal.
Thanks to Janet in Maryland for submitting this edition’s Ask the Expert question. As a thank you, Janet received a Vita Plus Calf Care Kit valued at $125. Email us to submit your question and earn your own Calf Care Kit if your question is selected for a future edition of Starting Strong.