Interpretive Summary: A comparison of indoor and outdoor calf housing systems using automated and manual feeding methods and their effect on calf health, behavior, growth, and labor
By: Alison M. Sinnott, Eddie A. M. Bokkers, John Paul Murphy, and Emer Kennedy
In seasonal calving dairy systems, cows calve in a period of approximately 12 wk. Demand for calf accommodation and labor is high during this time. Outdoor housing structures, such as robust plastic calf hutches, may offer an alternative to permanent indoor facilities. In this study, we compared indoor housing systems using automated and manual feeding methods and outdoor calf housing systems using manual feeding methods, to examine their effect on calf health, behavior, growth, and labor. Moving calves to their respective outdoor system commenced at approximately 18 d. This reflected a housing system with limited indoor availability, where older calves would be moved outdoors (allowing young calves to remain indoors). The most labor-efficient method of rearing was group housing calves indoors feeding via automatic feeder, followed by group housing indoors feeding via manual feeders, outdoor in group hutches, and outdoor in individual hutches with manual feeding. Calves in all systems showed health and growth patterns consistent with positive development. Calf behavior in the individual hutches outdoor may indicate compromised well-being, compared to all other systems. Thus, although outdoor group hutches do not negatively impact the calf, indoor housing, particularly when using automatic feeders, can provide improved labor efficiency.
Read the full article on the Journal of Animal Science.