Advice on good housing, hygiene and environment will be given in a new series of webinars organised by CAFRE on calf rearing.

Martin Mulholland, Senior Dairying Technologist at the College of Agriculture, Food and Rural Enterprise (CAFRE) says the CAFRE Calf 2020 webinars starting on Thursday next, November 19 at 8.00pm and continuing for three consecutive weeks until Thursday, December 3. Full details of the webinars and how to join are available from the News and Events section of the CAFRE website:

Martin says the environmental needs of a calf are fairly simple: physical comfort, good hygiene and reasonable shelter. Calf rearing is relatively straightforward, if calves remain healthy and disease free.

Key calf house design issues to minimise disease spread include: providing plenty of fresh air through good ventilation, controlling the speed of air movement at calf level to avoid draughts, good liquid waste drainage to avoid increasing humidity, and good feed supply and bedding management to allow the calf to manage low temperatures.Modern dairy calf housing should provide such an environment to allow calves to be reared to meet growth rate targets for calving at 24 months of age in a labour efficient and cost effective manner. To meet growth rate targets of 0.85 kg/day throughout the heifer rearing period, it is essential that the calf housing environment is designed to minimize disease incidence and spread in the early stages of calf life.

A calf can become infected by disease causing organisms in a number of ways, including: direct contact through either, calf mouth to mouth, faeces to mouth, mouth to feeder teat to mouth, or surfaces to mouth; short range air transmission of droplets transmitted by coughing and sneezing; airborne diffusion in aerosols formed from water droplets or dust.

Tips include avoiding over stocking, good drainage, good ventilation and avoiding draughts. Farmers are urged to use plenty of straw bedding.

Calf jackets may also help as they can prevent heat loss through convection, conduction, radiation and evaporation. The benefits of calf jackets have been studied by the Agrifood and Biosciences Institute (AFBI), Teagasc and Harper Adams. Teagasc found calf jackets to have no effect on growth rates or calf health. AFBI calf measurements have shown skin temperatures to be raised by up to 5oC when calves are fitted with jackets.

Feed intake should be increased in cold temperatures to replace energy being burnt for heat and to prevent growth rates being compromised. The Agricultural and Horticultural Development Board (AHDB) recommend feeding an extra 50g of milk replacer per day for each 5oC drop in temperature below 10oC.