16th September 2022

How to prepare winter housing for youngstock

Youngstock are often housed in a multipurpose shed, which may be used for storage throughout summer then for housing calves in winter. This can bring challenges, as the conditions inside the shed may not be conducive to optimal growth rates. No matter the age of the building or how it is set up, considering what calves need from housing and then looking at the building you have and how it can be adapted can bring significant productivity gains throughout the winter.

What do calves need from housing?

Regardless of whether a farm is autumn block calving or calving year-round, youngstock need to be kept warm while housed during winter. Warm calves will convert feed to growth, whereas cold calves use the energy from feed just to maintain their body temperature.

The environment also needs to be dry. Wet straw creates an environment which allows bacteria to thrive, putting calves at greater risk of infectious disease. Adequate weather protection can keep wind chill out, prevent draughts and protect against incoming rain.

However, simply shutting out the elements is not enough to enable housed youngstock to thrive. They also need a continuous supply of fresh air, which is achieved by having a ventilation system – whether that’s natural or mechanical – which brings air in, circulates once and then leaves via outlets. Good ventilation means calves are at less risk of inhaling airborne bacteria or viruses which can cause pneumonia, as they are not exposed to stagnant air or air which has been recirculating around the shed.

Bringing these two factors together, youngstock need an optimal balance between a well-ventilated environment which provides them with clean, fresh air but without exposure to adverse weather conditions which will chill them.

Assessing ventilation and weather protection

Understanding whether the building is adequately ventilated is the best place to start when assessing if a building is ready to house youngstock. Open sided sheds usually have enough airflow, but will be more exposed to wind and rain. Finding the right weather protection which continues to enable airflow but prevents bedding materials becoming wet or calves being chilled is essential for open-sided calf housing set-ups.

Fully enclosed buildings require some form of mechanical ventilation to be adequately ventilated. Ideally, there should be six to eight full air exchanges per hour, to enable calves to be continuously breathing clean air. Most livestock vets can support with assessing calf housing to understand whether the housing conditions will promote good respiratory health.

When checking conditions inside a calf shed, it is worth standing in various parts of the shed, especially if calves will be divided into pens so will not have the ability to move out of adverse conditions. Is there a draught at calf height in any area? Is there good airflow in the back corners of the shed, as well as near the open side? Are there areas where the straw gets wet when it rains?

How to improve conditions inside calf housing

There are a lot of options available when it comes to weather proofing and improving ventilation in livestock housing, so the trick is to identify the right solution for your building. Where weatherproofing is required, it is worth considering how much flexibility is needed. A clip-on mesh screen, like a Bayscreen, can be put up in a half a day and easily removed in spring when the building use changes. Rollerscreens provide day-to-day flexibility, on mild weather days they can be rolled up to maximise airflow, but when there’s wind or rain they can be rolled down to provide protection when it’s needed.

If ventilating an enclosed space, the energy efficiency of mechanical ventilation solutions is becoming ever more important. Before the current energy crisis, a positive pressure tube system, such as VentTube Fresh, could already save farmers £24,000 compared to using 14 fans over a three-year period. As energy prices continue to increase, these savings will become greater.

Evaluating the conditions inside your youngstock housing and identifying how to improve weather protection or ventilation as needed is the best way to adapt a building to provide quality winter housing for youngstock. The Galebreaker team can provide a shed assessment to review ventilation and weather proofing capabilities, to provide tailored advice on how to create the optimal environment inside the building for housing youngstock. If this service is of interest get in touch to book an assessment today.