Designing calf housing

THERE IS no single “right” way to rear calves and no “best” housing system.

Good management is essential to the success of any system. However, badly designed and managed housing systems can definitely pose risks to calf health, welfare and growth rates.

A well-designed housing system, whether it is a set of temporary pens under a hayshed or a purpose-built facility, will minimise these risks and make management easier.

Initial planning

The health and welfare of the calves are paramount when planning calf housing:

  • Review relevant legislation and industry guidelines to ensure compliance with best practice and standards for the welfare of calves.
  • Ensure that housing design complies with the principles of disease control programs such as bovine Johne’s disease. Good sources of information include:
  • industry and government animal health and welfare websites (for example, Dairy Australia, DAFF, your state DPI)
  • cattle veterinarians
  • government extension advisers
  • milk factory field officers.


When planning your calf housing system, consider initial capital, operating, maintenance and repair costs, and durability of the system.

Systems with lower initial costs may have higher maintenance and repair costs, and be shorter lived. For example, plastic cladding will have a much shorter lifespan than aluminium cladding.

Shed capacity

Overcrowding should be avoided, but under-use is inefficient especially for purpose-built buildings.

Allow enough space for all calves at maximum capacity plus an allowance for destocking and complete sanitation between batches. That is, operate at only 75 per cent capacity, so that 25 per cent of the space is vacant, on a rotational basis, at all times.


Locate calf rearing facilities to protect calves from sun, rain, wind and extreme temperatures. Also consider the needs of workers.

Orientate housing to provide protection from prevailing winds and shade from the sun in hot weather, but also allow wet areas to dry out in cold, wet weather.

Location of calf rearing facilities should also take into account:

  • Proximity to extra bedding materials.
  • Availability of water and electricity.
  • Convenience.
  • Easy disposal of effluent or bedding material (ensure effluent does not leave the property, or adversely affect air, soil, water resources, community amenity).
  • Ease of handling and treating calves.
  • Drainage and access.
  • Protected from farm effluent.