Is Your Calf’s Wardrobe Ready For Summer?
Providing an excellent housing environment is key to successfully raising healthy calves. Research has shown calves spend 73 to 81 percent of their time lying down in daylight hours and almost 100 percent at night if not disturbed. This makes the resting surface and space crucial to performance.
Calves require at least 28 to 32 square feet of resting space with a recommended bedding depth of 3 to 8 inches, depending on material, base and weather conditions. Deciding bedding type for calves is very important for many reasons: pathogen exposure, development of air-born bacteria, current outside temperature, cost and drying efficiency.
Calves regularly spend 2.5 to 4 percent of their time grooming themselves. A dirty calf can be exposed to a high load of pathogens while grooming. Small particles such as rice hulls promote high grooming while long dry straw does not. Depending on the cleanliness of the bedding surface, ingestion of fecal pathogens can be significant with grooming.
Pea gravel, crusher fines, sand, wood shavings, sawdust, straw, rice hulls and paper by-products have all been used for calf bedding. The inorganic products do not support bacterial growth until contaminated with manure or feed spillage, but lack the ability to absorb moisture. They provide cooling during hot summer days and rob the calf of needed energy when temperatures drop below 60°F. With the exception of sand, inorganic materials tend to keep fecal material in closer contact with the calf and lack comfort.
Organic bedding absorbs more moisture than its inorganic counterparts, allowing for increased bacterial growth. The addition of manure and urine leads to higher levels of air-borne bacteria, potentially resulting in respiratory problems. Studies of dairy cattle housing show that straw and paper supported higher levels of Streptococcal bacteria growth, while wood shavings and rice hulls supported coliform growth.
Current facilities and the pad on which the bedding will be applied will help to determine the best option for your calves. Cement pads require more absorptive material and will have to be sloped to move the seepage away from the pen. Gravel- and lime-based pads work well with less absorptive materials as they allow the urine and seepage to drain downward. Scrape the pad between calves and rest empty for at least one week between calves. A properly installed gravel or lime pad is easy to maintain.
Bedding and housing areas should be cleaned and disinfected between each calf rotation. Removing old bedding and fecal material will help to break the disease cycle.
This time of year, bedding choices also become a concern in terms of pest control. Flies are the No. 1 pest affecting young calves from spring to fall. Flies breed in manure, manure piles, decaying silage, feed, bedding and wet straw. Straw has shown to promote greater growth of flies versus wood shavings. Sand has been shown to help reduce fly populations.
Managing you calf’s environment is crucial to calf comfort and disease control. Giving your calf the right wardrobe will improve performance and calf health.
Starting Strong - Calf Care