Fast Fact: What’s the Recommended Resting Space for Heifers? – Dr. Noah Litherland, Vita Plus

Posted on February 23, 2017 in Starting Strong - Calf Care
By Dr. Noah Litherland, Vita Plus dairy youngstock technical specialist

Question:  What’s the recommended resting space for heifers?

Quick answer:  Forty square feet is the recommended resting space for a heifer that is three to five months old.

A bit more:  Um…scoot over.  I need my space! 

Most heifer facilities are at capacity.  Sexed semen, improvements in reproductive efficiency and greater calf survivability are just a few of the factors that have contributed to increased heifer numbers.  Providing adequate resources – resting space, feeding space, drinking space and air volume – are important to heifer growth and success.

Table 1 provides estimates of minimum square feet of resting space for heifers by age.  To put this space in context, a 4-by-8-foot sheet of plywood provides 32 square feet of surface area.  If we limit resting space, we will likely increase standing time, decrease rumination time and potentially decrease heifer growth rate.

Overcrowding facilities also decreases the air volume per head, which increases air pathogen load as well as air ammonia.  A good target is 600 to 700 cubic feet of air volume per heifer.

Let’s use an example:  A heifer barn that is 54 by 30 feet with 14-foot sidewalls and a peak height of 20 feet has an air volume of 27,600 cubic feet.  As shown in Table 2, if we house 40 head of heifers in this facility, we will provide 690 cubic feet of air space per head.  If we increase the stocking density to 60 head, air space decreases to 460 cubic feet of air space per heifer. The potential resting space with 40 head would be about 40 square feet; that shrinks to 27 square feet with 60 head.

The take-home message is that we need to think about the resources heifers need for optimal health and growth.  Resting space and air volume are two critical measures to consider.

Category: Facility design
Starting Strong - Calf Care