US - Group calf housing is becoming increasingly popular in the US but, in order to tap into the benefits, hygiene and cleanliness are a must.
While grouping calves brings labour and welfare benefits, a Virginia Tech university researcher has warned that care and attention is required to make group housing worthwhile.
The benefits of feeding a group also give chance for calves to play and learn together, said postgraduate researcher Alyssa Dietrich of Virginia Tech University.
On the risk side, calf to calf contact increases disease risk, and while poor ventilation threatens every indoor calf, it is particularly threatening when calves can touch noses frequently, she added.
“Nose to nose contact between group housed calves allows them to transfer disease easily,” explained Ms Dietrich.
“Furthermore, it may be more difficult for employees to monitor individual calf health, since they are not being fed individually.”
Best practice starts with ensuring calves are healthy when entering a group pen.
“Success starts at the freshening pen, which needs to be clean and well-bedded,” added Ms Dietrich.
“Colostrum management is obviously important for calf health in any rearing system but is especially critical in group housing systems.”
Milk feeding equipment should be cleaned along with waterers, bedding and grain troughs, with stocking density also important to ensuring healthy calves.
An ‘all in-all out’ system should be used, allowing for pen sanitisation, Ms Dietrich added.
These measures allow healthy calves while more milk can be delivered at one time, without increasing labour requirements.
Furthermore, several research studies attest to grouped calves showing less stress from handling and relocation compared to single calves.