Why Are Calves Kept in Hutches?

Some of the most common questions I hear regarding the dairy industry are about why calves are managed the way they are. Mainly, why are they taken from the mothers so soon and why are they housed alone? Calf management is a critical component of a dairy, because that's the future of the dairy right there! The heifer calves will one day become milk cows and produce for the farm.

Calves are removed from their mothers within a day of being born. Depending on the dairy, they may be allowed to nurse and receive the cow's colostrum or they may receive colostrum from a bottle. Colostrum is the first milk a cow produces and it is full of antibodies - the good things that help prevent diseases in cows! It is very important for calves to get this first milk so their immune system can develop properly. Once they receive colostrum, they are fed a milk replacer or milk that is pulled out of the bulk tank until they are weaned.

Most dairies in the US house calves in individual hutches. There has been a movement towards using group housing for calves, but individual housing is still the most common method. There are many reasons for keeping calves by themselves until after they are weaned. Respiratory infections are the number one killer of calves. Do you know how respiratory infections are spread? Through contact with sick calves! By keeping them by themselves, we are protecting them from getting sick. By keeping them by themselves, farm managers are also better able to monitor how much each calf is drinking and eating to ensure they are getting proper nutritional intake. Additionally, health monitoring is much easier when calves are kept individually. Calves aren't completely isolated, however. They are kept near one another, just not close enough to touch.

Photo courtesy of Real Agriculture
The hutches are positioned so calves are protected from the elements and they are bedded with lots of material so the calves can cuddle up during colder weather. They typically have runs where they can walk around and stretch their legs.

There are many benefits to housing calves in hutches that people don't necessarily see from the outside. Biosecurity and health of the cows are the number one priority on any farm, and keeping calves separated is one of the many way to combat infectious diseases and protect herd health.

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