Facility Focus: Does Paired Housing Make Sense for Your Calves?

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Humans and calves are more similar than we think. Do you know that there is research to support the advantages of raising calves in pairs? Jennifer Van Os, a faculty member at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, highlights the need to do so.
Van Os believes that when calves grow up with a companion, they exhibit better welfare and growth rates. Why? Since calves are naturally social animals. Those who grow up in socially cohesive communities are better able to handle changes. In fact, they are more adaptable. They are also not picky and are likely to feed on various food types. This means less stress for you and your calves when transitioning to solid food. On top of these benefits, it also enhances the public's perception of farming.
Like every other type of calf management facility, the paired housing method has its own challenges. Single-calf housing can potentially limit disease transfer between calves, but it is not a guarantee. Van Os adds that it's not simply the housing style that might cause diseases in calves; other factors are usually at play.
However, achieving healthy calves in pairs or groups is entirely possible with proper management. There should be precautions in place, though. For instance, conduct a thorough health check of each calf before group housing. This prevents the transmission of bacteria and diseases.

Choosing the right housing system

Are you deciding which housing system to go with? You're not short on options. Explore and find the best fit for your operation.

Affordable Choice: Paired-hutch system

If you're looking for an affordable option, use a paired-hutch system. It means that if you have two hutches already, you can save money by joining them. It can be done through a fence. While corral panels offer durability, wire panels are affordable and serve the purpose. But there's a catch. They'll often occupy a single hutch. While this promotes social bonding, it poses some drawbacks. For one, a single hutch lacks space and bedding for two calves. This is even more true as the calves grow. Also, think of the waste they produce. It can be uncomfortable for your calves. In addition, it gets harder to maintain the hutch's cleanliness.

Bigger Leg Room: Super hutches

What about super hutches? They are around 60 square feet, perfect for paired calves needing extra space. Yet, there's a drawback: their more enormous doorways. These can let unwanted weather elements in. To counter this, always ensure hutch openings aren't facing the prevailing winds.

Indoor Calf Raising: The Shared Pen System

Farmers eyeing indoor calf-rearing might find shared pens an interesting approach. You can join pairs or groups of calves by removing the panels that divide each pen. Some farms start with calves housed individually, especially when there's an age difference. It ensures each calf drinks milk confidently before pairing. On the other hand, farms with same-age calves may pair them up right away. The bonus? It saves money on pen partitions.
Good management is essential before switching to a paired calf-raising strategy. Talk with your veterinarian and figure out what options you have. Also, weigh the benefits and drawbacks of each system. Craft a well-informed strategy with the help of your vet. While calf-raising in pairs isn't always for everyone, it does have certain potential benefits that shouldn't be ignored.

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