There are three different methods of housing calves that are used predominantly in the Ontario veal industry. Calves can be housed in either hutches, stalls, or group pens.
Did you know? Both the dairy and the veal industry use those white hutches you might see on some of the farms you drive by. The hutches are usually kept in an area that slopes away from the barn, on a well draining bed of gravel. Both dairy and veal farmers need to pay close attention to young calf health.
These are the white, domed, igloo-like structures that some farmers use as outdoor “nurseries”. The hutch keeps the young calves isolated from other calves when they are most vulnerable to transmissible disease. Individual attention is paid to the calf, keeping an eye on feed consumption and health. Hutches act like an incubator, keeping the calf in a warm environment. Calves have the freedom to move around within the hutch and are usually bedded on a warm pack of straw. Water and feeding stations are present within the hutch so that the calf can freely choose to eat or drink. From here, calves are moved to either a stall system or group pens.
Stalls allow the veal producer to pay more individual attention to the calves. The calf is fed individually so the farmer knows exactly how much a particular calf has eaten. Feed monitoring is especially important to the producer to monitor production costs, calf health, and feed conversion rates. For example, a producer will be more aware of potential calf health problems since one of the first signs of illness will be reduced feed intake. The stalls provide a cleaner environment with less chance of disease transmission. The calf’s feed source is kept clean preventing calves from defecating in and then ingesting contaminated feed. The calf is able to stand up, lie down, stretch out, groom itself and interact with others. Stall widths are outlined in the Recommended Code of Practice for veal calves based on calf weight. In Ontario, most producers have committed to phasing out stalls on their farm by 2018.
Group pens are less expensive to build, ventilate and operate. Extremely good management is required to identify and treat individual animals when they are part of a group. Being kept in a group situation increases the risk for disease transmission, especially during the first 4 weeks of life. Calves have more room to move around and have more social contact with pen mates. However, the incidence of bullying, sucking one another, physical injury and dominant behaviour is more prevalent in group pens. Special pen designs can be created to allow for rest areas where calves can get away from the main group. It is more time consuming to keep the pens and animals clean due to increased number of calves using the same area. The pens must be large enough for all calves to lie down comfortably at the same time, since this is a natural tendency for calves. Usually, calves will also come into group pens from stalls or hutches once they are weaned or have built up enough of an immune system.