Monday, November 25, 2013

Housing Too Many Heifers
What to do for housing when you have too many heifers? This was one farm's solution - take over a bay in a machine shed. 

Put up plywood on the side to keep calves away from the metal siding.
Rip off some of the metal siding on the back for some ventilation. The front of the building where I was standing to take the picture is open. Air exchange is okay only on windy days.
Try not to overstock the pen - today these ten to twelve-week old heifers had a little over twenty-five square feet of resting space per animal. On one hand, that is substantially less than the recommended standard of thirty-five to minimize stress. On the other hand, that is quite a bit more than the less than fifteen before this machine-shed housing was set up.
This pen is quite labor intensive. Concentrate is fed inside the pen (see feeder at side) so a person has to climb in and out of this pen with a five-gallon bucket twice a day. Cow TMR is fed in the bunk (located where I was standing to take the picture) - so this has to be cleaned out by hand daily. Bedding is added from a skidsteer bucket - dumped in over the feed bunk and then spread by hand over the rest of the pen.

Overall, this "make-do" pen is better than the previous overcrowded housing. Nevertheless, barely half of the heifers escape this pen without being treated for pneumonia. 

In contrast, this dairy has just set up these three superhutches to solve the same problem. They will face some of the same challenges as the machine shed - overstocking can become an issue here. The day I took this picture they were making concentrate and water feeders for these hutches. It looked to me as if a person was going to have to get into each pen to feed grain and/or forage. Water tanks were planned for the downhill/front end of each pen to be filled with a hose from a non-freezing hydrant. Bedding will have to be done by hand.
Overall, this housing is better than an overstocked bottom of an old bank barn with non-existent ventilation. My experience with this housing was a very low rate of pneumonia treatment, good growth rates, and some extra hand labor for grain and water feeding especially during freezing weather.

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