Youngstock and heifers

The principles of housing and management that apply to adult cows are no different to those for youngstock and heifers. Regulations, legislation, welfare codes and quality assurance schemes are all-embracing, from birth to the abattoir.

Therefore, regardless of the age of the youngstock, from calf to down-calving heifer or type of housing (cubicles, straw yards, pens or hutches), the accommodation must provide for the animal's needs. 

Air space is just as crucial as floor area. One of the major causes of mortality, and less than optimal performance throughout the life of cattle, is pneumonia. It is especially common in housed animals and the disease can often be avoided if buildings are well designed and operated correctly with good ventilation and are well drained and managed, ie not overcrowded and mixing of different aged animals is avoided. 

As with adults, there are advantages and disadvantages of housing youngstock in cubicles and straw yards. If cows are to be housed in cubicles, it is arguable that cubicles for the young cattle should be the housing of choice. However, it must be stressed that the cubicles need to be suitably sized for the age, which means cubicles of various sizes for age groups.

Calf housing

It is essential to provide calves with a clean, dry bed in well ventilated but draught-free conditions, ie where air flow is less than two metres per second.

Regardless of housing type, a newborn calf needs to be kept in a temperature of not less than 7ºC. By one month of age, a calf can comfortably withstand temperatures around freezing point. 

The width of the individual stall/pen for a calf from birth to eight weeks of age must be at least equal to the height of the calf at the withers, as measured in the standing position. In practice, this means pens at least 1.5 x 0.9m, but preferably 1.8 x 1.0m.

A calf should always have a dry bed. Concrete floors should have a minimum slope of 5% (1 in 20) to allow effective drainage of water and urine.

Space allowances for group housed calves

Weight of calf (kg)

Approximate age (months)

Minimum (statutory) area (m2/calf)

Recommended area (m2/calf)





















It is recommended that calves are housed in groups no greater than 12, this makes it easier to identify sick calves and allow prompt treatment. Not only should there be no more than 30 calves sharing the same air space, they should not share space with older cattle.

Building drainage

Prevention of humidity is crucial in youngstock accommodation. This can be aggravated by poor drainage, especially where calves are bucket fed, around automatic feeders and by water bowls and troughs. This may require a drainage channel underneath the buckets with good falls to a drain, usually outside the building. Withad libitummilk feeding, large amounts of urine are a direct consequence. The profile of the floor must be to allow ready drainage away from the bedding (fall of around 5%).

Building ventilation

Dust and gas can have adverse effects on the health of the calf and young animal which then often extend through to lactation. Not only does dust irritate the respiratory tract and mucous membranes, it leads to permanent damage to the lungs and encourages growth of microorganisms.

The inlet and outlet areas should be about 0.05m² and 0.04m² per calf respectively, with the outlet being at least 1.5m above the ventilation inlet.

A constant supply of fresh air is essential in preventing respiratory and other diseases, together with improving production. Good ventilation removes stale, damp air which helps ensure that viruses and bacteria cannot survive for long outside the animal.