- Outdoor Housing Calves



Around the world, housing calves in the natural climate outdoors is increasingly making friends. Natural-climate housing is tantamount to the maximum supply of fresh air. This is the only way in which a low bacteria load will express as a good state of health in the animals from the outset. Calves are able to easily adjust to changing climatic conditions. In America, this has been a practice for decades, with individual hutches. However, since it is very time-consuming to address the individual needs of every calf, farmers all over the world have been looking for a combination of healthy natural-climate housing and the efficiency of raising calves in groups. The result of this search is the H&L Igloo, for up to 15 calves.

  • Draught-free micro-climate for optimum protection of your calves
  • Lots of space for healthy and active calves
  • Work facilitated
  • Low cost of construction and maximum flexibility

It is about time to having fun raising healthy calves again. Offer yourself, your family, your employees a nice, new work environment. Just as much as your children like playing with the young calves, you will like being around the calf barn again, because you'll be happy about healthy calves.

Here's how it works:

  • The calves choose the place they want to be on their own: inside the Igloo and protected or enjoying the fresh air outdoors.
  • The exercise area is roofed, so the bedding will remain dry.
  • The many configuration options for the feed fence leave nothing to be desired.
  • The high mobility of the Igloo and the Veranda speed up mucking out.

Draught-free Micro-climate for Optimum Protection of Your Calves

When issues arise in the calf barn, they are often due to poor ventilation. Frequent respiratory disorders clearly indicate a poor micro-climate in the barn. It is rewarding, though, to look at mother nature and allow her to work for you. To learn how the H&L Igloo makes this possible, read on!

Offer Your Calves Shelter

  • Draughts in their resting area affect your calves and cause diseases. That is a well-known fact. On the other hand, a high airflow rate has to be ensured in traditional calf housing facilities to replace stale and bacteria-contaminated air.
  • In particular, calves that are only a few weeks old are unable to compensate this undesired effect with an increased body temperature.
  • With a H&L Igloo, you offer up to 15 calves a draughtfree, yet well-ventilated shelter.

Set up a Unique Ventilation System

  • The hemispherical shape of the Igloo creates a specific ventilation effect: wind that hits the outside of the Igloo will result in negative pressure at the top of the dome (Bernoulli's Principle). As the ventilation shafts are placed exactly at the spot where this happens, stale air will be positively exhausted from the Igloo.
  • Additionally, this effect is helped by the thermal behaviour of air that should be exhausted, which is warmer and rises to the top of the dome. Therefore, no draughts will form in the calves' resting area.
  • Ventilation inside the Igloo is enhanced further by the stack effect (height difference between air intake and air output).
  • Fresh air is supplied to the Igloo through the entrance. The fact that this opening is 12 times as large as the exhaust ventilation shafts, will result in the desired low air velocity in the calves' resting area.

Never Make it Too Warm—and Never Too Cold

  • A specifically engineered coating of the Igloo results in maximum reflection of solar energy. For this reason, the temperature does not rise excessively inside the Igloo and it offers the calves a cool spot to relax, even on a hot summer day.
  • At the very minimum, the temperature inside the Igloo is always substantially lower, even when fully exposed to the sun, than it is in the direct sunlight.
  • Also, the winter temperature inside the Igloo does not differ much from the ambient temperature, so animals will not begin sweating, which could lead to considerable problems.
  • Overall, the calves' organism and, especially, their coat adjust to the low temperatures and they develop outstandingly. Please read the suggestions for winter management provided in our daily operation tips for housing.

Lots of Space for Healthy and Active Calves

How much space does a happy calf need? Not only animal welfare activists are concerned with this issue, but everyone interested in calf rearing. In particular for the youngest stock in the operation, 'Less is more' is not always the appropriate motto. Here is why!

Offer Your Calves Great Variety

  • Practical experience has demonstrated that it is a good choice to establish a resting, an activity, and a feeding area in the calf pen. This way, resting calves are not disturbed by active calves playing or running around.
  • In most cases, the feeding and drinking area is the one with the highest calf traffic rate, which makes it the dirtiest and dampest one too. Therefore, there should be enough space to avoid the calves' being required to lie down in this area of the pen.

Let the Calf Decide on Its Own

  • The calf decides which area it prefers to be in. Offer it two resting areas to choose from:
    • one inside the Igloo, in the protected micro-climate;
    • one as a roofed resting and exercise area in front of the Igloo.
  • You will recognise that the preferred resting areas are very different between calves, depending on the weather and their age. Their preferences may change within a couple of hours. The frequent variations are also an indicator that lets you know that in controlled-atmosphere housing, which could be an option, the operator tends to switch too late to the conditions the calves now prefer, and often is wrong at guessing what they like.

Be Very Animal-friendly, Offer Lots of Space

  • Pursuant to European directives for animal protection, a calf, depending on its age, must be allowed 1.5 to 1.8 sq. metres (16¼ to 19½ sq.ft) of space.
  • This required space minimum is too small when you want to offer three areas (see above) for resting and being active. We recommend that you provide 2 to 2.5 sq. metres (21½ to 27 sq.ft) per calf. With an Igloo, this space requirement in most cases is not a problem either because the cost of its construction is low.

Provide Lots of Good Bedding for Maximum Health

  • Good, fresh bedding lowers humidity, decreases bacteria development, and, as a consequence, the ammonia content in the air associated with rotting straw.
  • Furthermore, fresh bedding covers spots of manure as a surface protection, which reduces the calves' exposure to bacteria and decreases the risk of disease.
  • Finally, calves that eat the straw used as bedding can hardly be avoided, even when enough high-quality forage is available for them to eat. Therefore, the bedding has to be 'feed grade,' of excellent quality.

Work Facilitated

As early as when you are building your barn, you decide how you will work in it over the coming years (or decades). Also, in a calf barn there are not only the calves' needs to be respected, but the workers' needs as well. Both do not necessarily conflict. To learn how, read on!

Feed Efficiently
  • The best part of the time spent in the calf barn is used for feeding. This considered, the feeding place design has to allow forage to be taken there quickly or milk diet to be fed without consuming too much time.
  • Furthermore, it is critical that the feeding places are easy to clean and do not raise sanitation concerns. In particular, smooth surfaces are important for calves. In this respect, stainless steel fixtures are appropriate to a very high extent.
  • Also, it has to be possible to optimally integrate any feeding technology (H&L 100 Calf Feeder or Milk Taxi). Many ways of how to integrate them can be appropriately developed, as can be seen from the examples of everyday practice.
Spread Bedding Fast
  • Only when bedding can be done fast, will it be done often enough.
  • Therefore, consider a protected bedding storage area in your Igloo design when you sketch out the first plans. Make distances short and establish the bedding storage space close to the Igloo.
Muck out Regularly and Easily
  • Rotting straw in the calves' resting area leads to the release of ammonia. On top of that, flies heavily affect your calves in the summer. By mucking out the Igloo and the exercise area every 2 to 3 weeks, you will disrupt the larval development of the flies and rid the manure at a time before straw begins to rot.
  • All these reasons make it important that mucking out can be performed easily and quickly. This is something that close attention was paid to with the Igloo housing design. The Igloo itself can be lifted and easily moved to a new location with a front loader.
  • In an Igloo System, the design of the pen is one where the calves can be locked up in one area while the manure is simply being scraped out of the area that will receive new bedding.
  • With the Igloo Veranda, the exercise area, containing the calves, is moved to a new location while the location where it used to be can be easily scraped.

Daily Operation Tips How Do I orientate the Igloo with Respect to the Wind Direction?Since the H&L Igloo offers protection for more than three sides, the wind direction is of secondary importance. However, the following points should still be considered when planning the Igloo housing design:
  • Place the Igloo in such a way that one of its sides faces the prevailing wind direction (e.g. when West winds prevail, the entrance should face North or South). This will ensure continued protection of the micro-climatic zone even when the wind turns by 180 degrees.
  • Do not neglect sufficient cover for the Igloo, a roof keeping precipitation from hitting the area in front of the Igloo and preventing it from flowing under the bedding. Furthermore, a roof shades the Igloo from the hot summer sun, thereby keeping the temperature inside down. Based on all these considerations, a West-East orientation of the roofing structure, with the Igloo positioned north of the roof, would be ideal.
  • Always take the situation on site into account. Buildings, hedgerows or trees may affect the displacement of the air and make the wind all of a sudden blow from another direction.
Does the Resting Area in Front of the Igloo Need Any Protection?

If you build sufficiently large a roof overhang (projecting by approx. 1 m (3' 3') for a roof 3.5 - 4 m (11½' - 13') above ground), precipitations do not create any issues in most cases. Even at locations that are very exposed to the wind, walling or shutting the sides of the Igloo System would not be a good move. This would possibly send the wind the wrong direction. And every wall means that the rate of eliminating bacteria and providing fresh air is lower.

If extreme draughts have to be faced, a proven method is shutting off the resting area up to the height of the fencing. With this design, the lying calves are protected, and yet the wind ensures good air quality 'inside' the open barn.

When Should I Take My Calves to the Outdoors Housing Facility?

Right away, actually! Dry the calf properly after birth to avoid hypothermia, especially in the winter, and take it to the individual Igloo. This is the place it can be raised during the colostrum stage (the first week of life). After only a few days, the calf may be moved to the group with the youngest stock.

Calf Raising in the Winter

Do not be afraid of low temperatures. The Igloo as a housing design has proven itself in very different climatic conditions worldwide. The calves adjust outstandingly to their environment, even in the winter!

Consider the following points:

  • Get the calves used to the natural climate outdoors as early as possible (see above).
  • Do not neglect the fact that more energy is required in the winter. This energy demand, increasing by up to 40% when temperatures drop below the freezing point, has to be addressed with the milk diet.
  • Make sure that the bedding is always dry and add bedding material regularly. Dry bedding reduces the loss of energy experienced by lying calves.
  • It is advisable to offer added protection to small, weak, and sick calves by making them wear a calf jacket. This body cover will reduce the energy demand that the diet must supply by up to 20%.
  • Provide fresh water at any time in the winter too. It should be possible to heat the drinker bowls.
  • Offer your workers a warm jacket and gloves, maybe the kind with removable fi nger tips. Keep in mind that humans are much more affected by the cold than the calves they are attending to.
Effectiveness of Sanitation Measures to Bedding Material

New bedding regularly added to the old bedding is only superfi cial and creates the mere impression of cleanliness. Bacteria populations do not decrease much. Even mucking out reduces the bacteria load only by half. It is only highpressure cleaning, drying, and, fi nally, disinfecting the surface that provides real protection against too high bacteria loads.

How Do I Clean My Calf Pens and Igloos Properly?In the cleaning process, a high-pressure cleaner disperses large amounts of dirt and increases the ambient humidity in the barn. As this promotes bacteria growth, you should:
  • Clean the calf pens and Igloos in a dedicated washing area away from the barn.
  • Even with individual hutches, work according to the all-in all-out principle by groups, in order to be able to clean and disinfect the entire calf rearing area.
  • Apply the disinfectant only to dry surfaces.
  • Do not repopulate the cleaned and disinfected pen for several days and avoid any contamination (e.g. by animal traffi c) of a pen that was already treated.
  • Bedding to which an agent with a highly alkaline effect (e.g. Desical®) was added, can considerably inhibit bacteria growth.

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