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Keeping calves cool: Tips for hutch management in the summer

Brian Wesemann Published on 14 July 2015

Opaque polythylene hutches

The mercury is inching up the thermometer and everyone is feeling the heat – especially those dairy calves.

Heat can affect young calves in many ways and calls for extra precautions. There are steps every operation can take to keep calves healthy and comfortable, beginning with selecting the right type of housing.

Research shows opaque polyethylene calf hutches provide the optimal environment for maintaining a comfortable temperature. By completely blocking the sun’s rays, opaque hutches offer increased protection over clear plastic, wood or wire hutches.

A 2012 study conducted by Dr. Carlos Risco, professor of food animal reproduction and medicine service at the University of Florida Department of Large Animal Clinical Sciences, compared wire hutches to opaque polyethylene and found the solid hutch stayed cooler during both the hottest and coolest parts of the day.

Results of a Pennsylvania study revealed daytime air temperatures inside translucent hutches were 3.6 to 5.4ºF higher than outside air. That matters when temps outside hover above the 90-degree mark.

A 2013 Texas A&M study showed a nearly 7-degree advantage to adding reflective material, when the material is new. But as it fades over time, it loses its reflective capacity and the advantage is lost, leaving the opaque hutch as the coolest option.

Along with the construction material of the calf hutch, adequate ventilation is key to calf comfort and protection. Hutches should be placed in open areas, with adequate space between, to allow for unrestricted airflow.

Some calf hutch models provide additional ventilation options, such as ridge top vents and adjustable rear vents.

Maintaining a cool interior environment provides an added advantage by encouraging calves to stay inside during times of peak temps. Hutches with outdoor pens are desirable, providing an opportunity for calves to venture outside for exercise and defecation when temps cool down. That keeps hutches cleaner, encourages exercise and allows for observation.

Sand bedding for calf hutch

Watch for signs of stress

Calves need close observation during times of extreme heat, as heat stress and other health problems can develop quickly. Heat stress can be fatal if the calf becomes dehydrated and suffers heat stroke. Watch for listlessness and loss of appetite, signs of dehydration.

Also, the calf’s eyes should be bright and not sunken into the socket. This happens when a calf reaches 4 percent dehydration. For a 100-pound calf, that means a shortage of 2 quarts of water.

Heat stress can also weaken the calf’s immune system, leading to susceptibility of bacterial infection.

Again, hutch construction matters. The Lammers Pennsylvania study in 1996 noted higher calf body temperatures, higher respiration rates and lower feed intake in translucent hutches, compared with opaque hutches.

Additional warm weather housing considerations

There are other measures that can be taken to help keep calves cool, healthy and productive.

  • If you have indoor calf housing, consider adding a fan, or if calves are housed in hutches, elevate the rear of the hutch. An Ohio study showed calves housed indoors and cooled with a fan gained an average of 8.7 pounds more over a 42-day period than those without fans. The same study addressed airborne bacteria and found elevating the rear of the hutch 1.57 inches significantly reduced concentrations.
  • Adjust bedding materials for the season. Sand will keep calves cooler, and sand or wood shavings can reduce fly populations. The advantages are most apparent when hutches are situated on concrete or hard dirt surfaces.
  • Ensure proper drainage in and around calf hutches. Whatever the base material or bedding option, proper drainage is essential for both calf comfort and to reduce the risk of pest-breeding standing water.
  • Provide access to fresh feed and water.
  • Make sure the hutch is clean and sanitized before each use.
  • Provide shade for the hutches, but care must be taken to ensure the shade does not restrict airflow.

Keeping young calves comfortable and healthy is important to the future of any dairy. Providing the right type of housing during the hot summer months is key to that effort. PD

References omitted but are available upon request. Click here to email an editor.

Brian Wesemann
  • Brian Wesemann

  • Director of Sales
  • Calf-Tel Hampel Animal Care
  • Email Brian Wesemann

PHOTO 1: Opaque polyethylene hutches tend to stay cooler during the summer than hutches made out of wood, clear plastic or wire.

PHOTO 2: Sand can be a cooler bedding option during the hot summer months. Photos provided by Calf-Tel Hampel Animal Care.

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