Calf shed allows flexibility

The main feature of the new calf shed is the ability to open it up to the sun to compensate for the not ideal orientation. Photo by Sophie Baldwin

With his old calf shed about to fall over, Rob Gundry knew it was time to tick off one of the last big ticket pieces of infrastructure on his northern Victorian dairy farm.

Milking 470 split-calving cows on the Gunbower property means there are around 100 calves each autumn and spring to go through the system — a bigger shed with walls that slide open to let the sun in has given Rob the flexibility he needs.

The new 40m x 8m shed, with concrete floor, is located close to the dairy for ease of management.

“We get our calf milk straight from the line and it is pretty easy to just fill up the buckets and cart them over to the calf shed,” Rob said.

“We have made up a trolley to avoid heavy lifting and we can duck over and feed the calves during milking.”

Once the calves hit the shed they are fed once a day, every morning.

“We build them up to about four litres over a week and we stay around that volume for the whole time they are in the shed, which is around five to six weeks, depending on how well each individual calf is doing,” Rob said.

The calves have access to a grain mix and straw from day one and once they hit six weeks, they head outside and are fed off the big calf trailer for another month or so before they are weaned.

Gates enable the pens to be opened up for ease of access. Photo by Sophie Baldwin

Rob said when it came to building the shed location won over orientation.

“It is not ideally orientated but to compensate for that we have installed some big doors so we can open them up and let the sun in and that will be a major advantage over the old shed,” he said.

The shed is built to house around 80 calves at its peak with eight pens of 10 calves.

“We decided to bite the bullet and put in a cement floor so we can clean the shed out between batches and we have made it so we can easily hose the whole area out as well,” Rob said.

The calves are bedded on pine shavings which are easy to source in bulk or in smaller bags.

Rob prefers the smaller bags for ease of use, even though they are probably a little dearer to purchase.

“It just saves having a big pile sitting outside in the elements — not only can they look messy, they can also get very wet.”

When it comes to calf health, Rob said one of the best moves he ever made was to get the help of a vet to debud the calves.

“The vet just puts the calves to sleep and then we vaccinate, ear tag, debud and check out their navels, teats and general health.

“Again, it’s a bit more expensive — but it is far easier on the animals and humans, and we will continue to do this in the future.”

The last few years have been pretty busy for the Gundrys, with the building of a new rotary dairy, an underpass and a calf shed.

“We have pretty much ticked off all our major infrastructure builds now except for some sort of feedpad.”

Rob said his cows enjoy heading out to the hay rings for a feed before they head off to a paddock, so he is looking at building a more permanent structure.

“Currently they just go into a couple of sacrifice paddocks and it works really well except for when it comes in wet.”

He said he is also looking at reducing herd numbers to around 400 to take some grazing pressure off his pasture.

“The trouble is we have so many young stock running around the place, it is hard to reduce numbers.”

The pens will be divided in half when the shed is finished. Photo by Sophie Baldwin