LIVESTOCK housing expert, Jamie Robertson (pictured), pulled no punches, when he outlined his opinions on building design for calf houses at a farm walk organised by the Royal Association of British Dairy Farmers in North Yorkshire.

The pig and poultry industries were streets ahead of the dairy sector, when it came to fulfilling cattle shed housing requirements, said Mr Robertson, a research fellow at the University of Aberdeen.

They were prepared to spend a little extra to get the housing right, because they looked on it as an investment.

“Dairy cows are generally looked after very well and several years ago, there was a big industry drive to improve the welfare of dry cows,” he said.

“This has been followed by increased focus on heifer rearing, which has been successful. I feel it is now time to go even further back along the production line and take a fresh look at the way we house calves, which is often far from ideal.”

One of the main priorities for a building should be a constant supply of fresh air, which was crucial to the healthy development of young calves, he stressed.

“Bacteria and viruses are killed 20 times faster in an environment containing fresh air. It is a natural bactericide and it also comes free of charge. As air enters a building, its density increases, as it gathers heat and moisture. These properties must be removed efficiently.

“Air speed is another important factor and I am not keen on Yorkshire boarding; if the wind hits it at 20 miles per hour, it will be forced through the boards at around double that speed and that is not comfortable for the building’s occupants. Air breaker blinds, which can be rolled up and down, are a much better option.”

Buildings must also be kept dry, he added.

“Calves will feel much colder, if their housing is damp. It should also be very easy to clean, but unfortunately, this is not a feature of many calf sheds, which tend to be older structures. In addition, buildings must be allowed to dry completely after thorough cleaning.”

He said studies had indicated that if too much food was being converted into energy to keep calves warm, the animals would not reach their growth rate potential. The ideal temperature varied, according to breed but as a general rule, 10C would apply to a large calf, with the figure at around 20C for a smaller animal, like a Jersey.

The event was hosted by the Banks family, who milk 280 Holstein cows at Wildon Grange, near Thirsk.