The ins and outs of calf hutches

Posted on August 4, 2023 in Starting Strong - Calf Care
By Ann Hoskins, Vita Plus calf program manager

2020 HoskinsThe options for calf hutches are endless.  The following considerations can help you research and choose hutches that best fit your farm and calf program.

Location, size and space 
First consider where you will place the hutches, how much space you have and whether the area is adequately sloped for good drainage.  The location should be large enough to have space between hutches for easier feeding and better ventilation.  Ideally, you want 1 to 2 feet separating calf hutches within a row and 8 to 10 feet between rows.  This allows for good airflow around the hutches.  Newer calf hutches offer more doors and vents for more air to flow through the hutch.

Traditional single-calf hutches are approximately 4 feet by 7 feet (28 square feet).  Some newer designs go up to 5 feet by 8 feet (40 square feet) to allow more space per calf.  It is easier to keep larger hutches dry and they provide more space for ventilation.  With an increased interest in pairing calves, manufacturers are now also offering larger hutches with dual feeding stations.

When evaluating hutch size, consider the size of the calf when it is about to move out of the hutch.  If calves are struggling to get in and out of the hutch, you may need to invest in larger hutches or move out calves sooner.

Also consider the calf’s outdoor space.  Some calf hutches use piping on the front of the hutch for a more enclosed space.  This appeals to producers who have limited space. Other hutches will have outdoor spaces for calves to move freely in and out.

Do you plan to feed calves inside or outside the calf hutch?  Some hutches have side or back doors that can be easily lifted to feed inside the hutch.  The advantage of inside feeding is less shrink from adverse weather conditions.  The downside is that calves could urinate or defecate in the pails, especially as they get older.

The advantage of outside feeding is that it tends to be more efficient as you move through a row of calves feeding milk and calf starter.  The downside is the need to replace feed following adverse weather.

Most calf hutches will offer a two-pail system for feeding milk and grain.  In some calf hutches, I have seen where water and milk are offered outside, and calf starter is fed inside.  This makes feeding more efficient and keeps starter protected from the elements.

In any feeding system, look at the feeding height of pails.  Shallow pails can be used to lift the feeding height for young calves.  Some pails can be attached to the inside of panels or gates for better access by timid calves.

Calf management
Manufacturers are now offering front gates for hutches that make it easier for calf managers to enter the pen.  They are sturdier and hold up better in Midwest weather compared with the traditional panels.  Some of these gates offer a headlock system that is helpful when managing younger calves.

Every hutch is different – with different benefits and challenges.  Your Vita Plus consultant can help you think through the options and choose hutches that best fit your calves, management approach, and existing facilities.

Category: Animal handling
Starting Strong - Calf Care