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It's That Time of Year Again: Summertime calf care tips

Progressive Dairyman Editor Peggy Coffeen Published on 11 June 2014

Eugene, Maggie, Mark and Dan Hanson

Calves will be cool, clean and comfortable this summer in a new barn at the Hansen farm near Chilton, Wisconsin.



Eugene and Maggie Hansen, along with their sons Mark and Dan (pictured), moved calves from hutches into a calf barn in March. The building holds 31 individual stalls, where they raise both heifer and bull calves through weaning.

As the Hansens begin their first summer in the new barn, they are making adjustments to transition the building for warmer weather. The adjustable sidewall curtains roll from the middle up and down, allowing control of air movement, an important feature to regulate natural ventilation from the prevailing west winds.

A supplemental positive pressure ventilation system directs air flow down into the pens as well. To keep birds out, the open walls of the building are lined with chicken wire. PD

peggy coffeen

Peggy Coffeen
Progressive Dairyman


Fly control

  • Build your whole fly control program around source reduction through prevention and debris management. Scout for maggots to see where flies are coming from.
  • Eliminate weeds and tall, unwanted vegetation around facilities to reduce attractiveness to flies.
  • Minimize the amount of wet bedding, wasted hay and manure near calves and heifers. Besides bedding, spilled hay, TMR and silage, if wet, can be a fly source, too. Remove and dispose of wasted feed daily.
  • Look into an inorganic, alternative bedding material like sand that doesn’t support fly growth.
  • Consider feeding an insect growth regulator (IGR), a feed additive that can be added to milk, milk replacer or calf starter. Ideally, an IGR should be added to the feed several weeks before the start of fly season so manure in calf housing contains it when flies begin reproducing, and it should be fed until 30 days past the first frost to minimize the number of over-wintering pupae.

—Tips provided by Noah Litherland, Ph.D., Vita Plus


  • Apply proven principles of cleaning milk-handling equipment to your calf equipment. A clean-in-place (CIP) system on a dairy for milking equipment uses a warm-water rinse, a chlorinated alkaline detergent, an acid rinse and a sanitizer.
  • Use “elbow grease” to clean calf-feeding equipment. Thoroughly scrubbing equipment to remove organic matter and break up biofilm will eliminate 90 percent of bacteria. This applies to bottles, pails, nipples, mixing tools, balling guns and esophageal feeders after every use. Also, pay specific attention to valves, hoses, pumps and connections.
  • Sanitize and dry. Choose a disinfection product with a broad antimicrobial spectrum and dilute it with water at the prescribed concentration and temperature. Allow time and air circulation for all equipment and utensils to dry thoroughly before the next use.
  • Work with your veterinarian, feed supplier or milk company representative to conduct an audit of your calf-feeding equipment to see where improved sanitation is needed..

—Tips provided by Skip Olson, DVM, Milk Products, LLC.


  • Ventilate your calf barn based on calf bodyweight and total weight of animals in the barn – not barn volume. This ensures that as calves grow and require more fresh air, the ventilation rate increases with them.
  • Replace belts. As the belt on a belt-driven fan stretches, it transfers less power from the motor’s drive shaft to the fan blades, reducing the fan’s output and decreasing the overall ventilation rate. Annual belt replacement is an inexpensive way to ensure proper fan performance.
  • Add additional fans for the summer. Positive-pressure ventilation ducts provide minimal ventilation rates and are designed to supplement ventilation in the winter months. The spring, summer and fall ventilation rate requirements quickly outpace what a positive-pressure system can deliver. Supplement your positive-pressure and natural ventilation systems with other means to move large volumes of air. Examples include high-velocity basket fans or large industrial ceiling fans (high-volume, low-speed fans).
  • Maximize natural ventilation. The addition or use of curtain sidewalls significantly improves the respiratory health of calf barns during periods of warm weather.
  • If considering adding a positive-pressure ventilation system to your calf barn, do your homework. The ventilation system in your calf barn is a significant investment, and it will have long-lasting impacts on the health and productivity of your heifers.

—Tips provided by Ryan Leiterman, DVM, Crystal Creek, a division of Leiterman & Associates, Inc.