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Calf House

Calf house

The new CAFRE calf housing facilities were commissioned in September 2019 and include two separate buildings:

Calf House 1 – for all calves from birth to weaning or sale
Calf House 2 – for heifer calves from weaning until turnout to grass

Calf House 1 – Birth to Weaning


Calf House 1 is located in the south west corner of the CAFRE dairy farm. Calves are the most disease susceptible animals on the farm. The Calf House 1 location decision was based on ensuring that the prevailing wind blows over Calf House 1 before reaching other areas of the farmyard, to minimise the risk of wind borne spread of pathogens from older stock to calves. However, this means that the calf house is not adjacent to the dairy cow housing and the calving pens, with the result that calves and milk need to be transported a longer distance from the main dairy cow building.

Building specification

The building is constructed from a portal frame structure with external dimensions 38.5m x 19.0m (including 1.5m overhang each side), eaves height 3.6m and roof slope 15 degrees. The total footprint area is 732m2. The building is open on all sides allowing fresh air to flow freely through the building.

The specification of Calf House 1 includes the following features:

  • Open sided canopy-building to optimise fresh air flow through the building
  • Milk preparation and feeding equipment cleaning room
  • Storage room
  • Isolation area for sick calves
  • Student hand and footwear cleaning facilities
  • 40 No. individual calf pens with associated floor drainage system
  • 6 No. igloos and group bedded pens
  • 2 No. shallow drainage channels
  • 1 No. slurry storage tank
  • 2 No. automatic milk feeders
  • 6 No. milk feeding boxes equipped with automatic weighing scales
  • 6 No. concentrate feeding boxes
  • Straw storage area
  • Water circulation-frost protection system

Roof cladding on the building is corrugated fibre cement sheeting with translucent sheets to allow natural light through 15% of the roof area.


Baby calves reared in large numbers and in close proximity are particularly prone to infection by airborne respiratory pathogens. Respiratory pathogen infections can lead to pneumonia which can affect the health and productivity of a replacement heifer throughout its productive life. The building canopy has open sides and gables to provide free flow of fresh air through the building to minimize the respiratory pathogen load within the building. During the crucial first few weeks of life, calf immunity to pneumonia is built up through a vaccination protocol described within the Calf and heifer rearing section of the CAFRE website. Through the coldest and windiest parts of the winter, the straw store in the north end of the building will be kept full of straw to provide a wind break.

Draught protection

The design rationale for group igloos with straw bedded pens in front of the igloo, centres on providing the young calf with a choice of environment. The partially enclosed igloo provides calves with an environment protected from high air speeds and thus draughts. The igloo is equipped with ventilation outlets at the highest point of the igloo. The straw bedded pen provides access to a larger floor area with ample fresh air to minimise the risk of respiratory infection. In addition to the choice of igloo or bedded pen areas, calves in the new CAFRE accommodation are fitted with calf jackets to provide extra thermal protection during those time periods when ambient temperature falls below the calf’s lower critical temperature of approximately 10 degrees celsius. The pens are also bedded with fresh straw daily to allow the calf to nestle into the straw, creating an additional micro-climate effect for extra cold weather protection.

Individual pens

For the first week of life, baby calves are fitted with a clean calf jacket and are kept in individual straw bedded pens. Calves in the individual pens are potentially most at risk from draughts within the design of the new CAFRE calf house. This is because the calf in the individual pen cannot move away from a potential draught. To minimize exposure of calves in individual pens to draughts, the individual pens are constructed with solid plastic sides and rear and have an adjustable and removable top cover. The individual pens are also fitted with castor wheels to allow the position of pens to be adjusted and to allow pens to be wheeled out of the calf house to the wash bay for thorough washing and disinfection between calves. To assess calf exposure to draughts in the individual calf pens, anemometers have been positioned within the calf house to measure air speeds in, and in front of individual calf pens. The specification of the individual pens includes the following key features:

  • Constructed from easily cleaned hard plastics and galvanised steel
  • Insulated solid side and end panels
  • Easily cleaned plastic floor
  • Adjustable and removable pen top covers
  • Mounted on lockable castor wheels

Good floor drainage is essential within a calf house both to remove the disease transmission risk from dirty water contaminated with urine and faeces and also to avoid wet floor surfaces contributing to increased humidity within the calf house air environment. The floor surfaces underneath the individual calf pens for baby calves have been designed and constructed to create falls of 1 in 70 from the centre of the house to the outside and 1 in 30 from the back to the front of the pen. The floors drain liquid to a 50mm open floor drain. The drain is created from 2 No. lengths of 50mm x 50mm x 5mm RSA section galvanised steel welded together with 50mm x 5mm flat spacers at 500mm centres, embedded into the concrete as shown in the open floor drain diagram.

The concrete floor under each group igloo drains from the front of the igloo to a drain located approximately 300mm beyond the outside edge of the igloo. The concrete floor under the bedded pen in front of the igloo drains through a series of 50mm diameter circular slots drilled through the concrete to a shallow slurry channel 2000mm wide by 600mm deep covered with narrow slot width (36mm) gang slats. Liquid spills from the milk feeding boxes drain into the shallow slurry channel, keeping the area around the milk feeding boxes as dry as possible. The slatted channel area at the front of each pen can also be used as a restraining area in which to hold all calves in the pen for veterinary treatment or for student practical training sessions such as weighing or dis-budding.

Calf Igloos

The calf igloos in the new CAFRE Calf House were supplied by Holm and Laue, Germany. The igloo is designed to provide calves reared in an open air housing environment with a draught free shelter. The igloo is equipped with 3 No. outlet ventilation points located on top of the igloo. Wind blowing over the igloo creates a negative pressure at the highest point, drawing air out of the igloo. The ratio of the size of the size of the air inlet area at the front entrance to the igloo to the size of the ventilation outlets is designed to result in slow, draught free air movement within the igloo.

Figure 1: Holm and Laue Igloo ventilation

The igloo is equipped with a transport hook to allow the igloo to be lifted mechanically when the igloo and straw bedded pen are being cleaned out. At CAFRE, the igloo is removed from the calf house to a wash bay for cleaning. Experience from the first year of use of the new calf house has found that the bedding routine, combined with the floor drainage characteristics, has generally resulted in cleaning out only being required between calf batches.

Automatic milk feeders

The calf house is equipped with two Foerster Technik automatic milk feeders. Each feeder provides milk replacer to three milk feeding boxes and controls three concentrate feeding boxes. To minimize the length of milk feeding pipes, each feeder services two milk and concentrate feeding boxes on one side of the central passage and one on the opposite side of the central passage.

The performance of individual calves reared in the new CAFRE facility is monitored through automatic weighing scales on the milk feeding box linked to the Foerster Technik CalfCloud or CalfApp software. The software monitors feeding behaviour, milk replacer consumption, concentrate feed consumption and calf weight. The software is freely available with Foerster Technik automatic calf feeders sold in N. Ireland from aearly 2017. A 4g wireless data connection is provided in CAFRE Calf House 1 to automatically transfer the milk feeder data to the internet.

Frost protected water supply

The open plan nature of the calf house increases the risk of the water supply within the building freezing during very cold weather. The automatic milk feeding equipment requires a water supply through relatively narrow diameter water pipes, further increasing the risk of the water supply being frozen. A frost protection option based on electrical circuit heating has been included as an optional extra with each automatic milk feeder. A Suevia frost protection water supply system is also installed in the calf house storage room. The Suevia system ensures that water is constantly circulated in a continuous loop to prevent the water supply from freezing. In addition to the water circulation, when the temperature falls towards freezing, a heating element is switched on as a further frost prevention measure.

Drinking bowls

Drinking water for the calves is provided through Suevia water drinking bowls placed close to the milk feeding boxes. The drinking bowls are connected to the water circulation loop.

Milk preparation room

A milk preparation room is included within Calf House 1 with dimensions: 5.0m wide x 6.0m deep with a 2.4m internal ceiling height. Walls and floors are finished with an epoxy resin screed which includes a polymer bead additive for slip resistance. Drainage of this wet room is to a central gutter in the floor to facilitate cleaning of milk spills etc.

Equipment in the milk preparation room includes:

  • large upright fridge 1375mm wide x 750mm deep x 2074mm high for storing the calf dam’s colostrum for feeding during the first 5 days
  • coloquick stainless steel colostrum heating and pasteurization bath – equipped with bottle slots and insulated lid to minimise heat loss
  • low level sink 400mm x 400mm x 300mm deep with base 300mm above floor level equipped with flexible hose tap for easy filling of 9 x 2.5 litre milk bottles with colostrum
  • large stainless steel double sink with hot and cold water supply and flexible tap-hose
  • commercial dishwasher for washing milk bottles, lids and teats
  • washing machine and dryer for washing calf jackets
  • milk taxi for feeding bucket reared calves
  • computer access point and power supply on 950mm high workbenches
  • small eye level fridge for vaccine storage
  • eye level medicines cabinet approximately 300mm x 300mm x 200mm
  • first aid box
  • white board 1000mm wide x 1000mm
  • work bench and double storage cupboards at both high and low level
Storage room

A storage room is included within Calf House 1 with dimensions: 8.0m wide x 6.0m deep with a 2400mm internal ceiling height. The storage room is used to store:

  • pallets of milk replacer in bags
  • pallets of calf concentrate in bags
  • calf weighing crate
  • calf disbudding crate
  • wheel barrows
  • hooks for 100 automatic calf feeder collars (10 collars per hook)
  • wall brackets for storing graips, brushes, shovels, etc.
  • work bench and double storage cupboards at both high and low level
  • fire extinguishers
  • Suevia water frost protection system
Straw storage area

A straw storage bay 16.0m x 6.0m is provided across the width of one bay in the west end of the building. Space has also been left between pens 1 & 2 and 5 & 6 for straw storage close to where it is required for bedding.

Calf House 2 – Post Weaning


Calf House 2 is located between Calf House 1 and the Dairy Cow building in the CAFRE farmyard.

Building specification

The building is constructed from a portal frame structure with external dimensions 35.2m x 19.2m, eaves height 3.5m and roof slope 13 degrees. The total footprint area is 676m2.

The specification of Calf House 2 includes the following features:

  • 84 No. individual calf cubicles for heifer calves post weaning until turnout to grass
  • 4 No. scraped passages
  • 1 No. external slurry tank
  • 1 No. central feed passage
  • 1 No. straw bedded pen for isolation of sick calves
  • 1 No. feed and sawdust storage area
  • 1 No. roller shutter door
  • 1 No. pedestrian access door

The roof cladding is corrugated fibre reinforced cement sheeting with translucent sheets to provide natural light through 15% pf the roof area. The gable cladding is Juniper Green galvanised steel cladding, painted to match existing buildings. The eaves cladding is full double row Yorkshire cladding.


The building is naturally ventilated with a protected open ridge outlet along the length of the building. The ridge has clear outlet width of 190mm along the full length of the ridge to give an outlet area per 200kg animal of 0.06m2. The total clear ventilation outlet area required for the house, fully stocked with 200kg liveweight heifers is 5.2m2. The ridge is finished with bird proofed netting fixed vertically under the rain deflector plate to prevent birds from nesting under the protected ridge structure.

Inlet ventilation is provided through 1500mm high Yorkshire cladding constructed from a double row of timber boards fixed either side of a 75mm baton. The boards are 100mm wide, spaced 20mm apart along both sides of the building to give inlet ventilation area per animal of 0.11m2. The total ventilation inlet area along each side of the building is 5.2m2

Figure 2. Protected ridge ventilation outlet
Slurry handling system

The slurry handling system within the building has the following features:

  • External slurry mixing and filling to avoid the risk of student, staff and animal exposure to slurry gas during mixing
  • Storage capacity of 86m3 in a 12.0m long x 3.0m wide x 2.4m deep tank
Slurry scraper floors

The 4 No. 2.1m wide passages are finished with a 2% slope to the centre of the passage. The floor has a 1% slope to the north end of the building.

Slurry scraping system

The floors are scraped with purpose made scraper blades fabricated to match the 2% cross slope in the floor surface. The chain driven slurry scraping system deposits slurry in the slurry tank constructed at the north end of the building. The scraper drive units and slurry dump points are contained in a service passage inside the building.


The following cubicle divisions for Holstein-Friesian heifer calves up to 6 months of age have been supplied by Teemore Engineering:

  • Cubicle length (solid front)                                          – 1,500mm
  • Cubicle bed slope                                                          – 2.5%
  • Cubicle division width                                                   – 900mm centres
  • Kerb height (including mattress)                                 – 120mm
  • Wall in front of feed passage facing cubicles          – 650mm with 2 rails above to 1,250mm
Cubicle mattresses

The mattresses for the new post weaning house have the following features:

  • Continuous length to cover a row of up to 26 cubicles 900mm wide.
  • Comfort and shock absorption from functional layers
  • 10 year guarantee
Bedded pen

The building includes 1 No. bedded pen for isolation of sick heifers with dimensions 4.0m x 7.3m and drainage falls of 1 in 50 to the adjoining scraped slurry passages.

Cross passages

Cross passages between the cubicle and feed stance areas are constructed from in situ poured concrete with a tamped finish with a fall of 1 in 40 from the centre of the cross passage to the cubicle and feeding passages.

Feed passage

The feed passage is 4.0m wide and the concrete surface is finished with a wood float to provide a smooth surface for machinery operation. The floor surface of the feed passage adjacent to the feed barrier is treated with a 750mm wide strip of epoxy resin paintcontinued 250mm from the floor up the feed barrier wall. The epoxy resin paint provides an acid resistant, smooth surface for heifers to eat off.

Feed barriers

The feed barriers and feed passages are designed to give heifers access to feed while preventing the animals or vermin from contaminating the feed. The floor of the feed is raised 75mm above the height of the scraped passage. The feed barrier has an angled rail design with dimensions to allow for growing heifers. The feed barrier sections are mounted between 100mm shs at approximately 4,250mm centres above a 275mm x 100mm poured concrete wall. The top of the feed barrier wall has a coved finish. The perpendicular spacing between angled rails is 250mm. The total height of the feed barrier is 1,200mm above the height of the scraped passage floor on both sides of the passage.

Water troughs and bowls

The water supply to water troughs and drinking bowl is provided through the same Suevia water pumping / heating loop as installed in the calf rearing house storage room. The size and number of water troughs in the building have been designed to meet the DEFRA recommendations:

  • Flow rate to water trough of min. 10 litres / minute
  • 10% of the heifer calves should be able to drink at any given time.
  • The height of the water trough is 650mm from the floor with a water level of 50 – 100mm below the edge of the trough

4 No. stainless steel water troughs 600mm long x 300mm wide x 200mm deep are provided in the building. The water troughs are wall mounted 650 mm above the floor on reinforced in-situ poured concrete panels. The troughs are fitted with a large bore 50mm diameter draining ball valve.

Storage facilities

Concentrate feed for calves is stored in a storage area in the corner of the building opposite the isolation pen.

Gates and doors

The following gates are required within the building as detailed below:

  • Gate Type A: 9 No. 3000mm x 1125mm feed barrier gates
  • Door Type B: 1 No. 900mm brown waterproof pedestrian door
  • Door Type C: 1 No. 4000mm wide x 5000mm high roller shutter door in juniper green
Cattle handling and transport

Where the 3-6 month heifer calves in Calf House 2 need to be handled for TB testing etc, the handling facilities in the adjacent heifer house are used. The loading facilities in the heifer house are also used to load calves from the post weaning calf house for turnout to grass.

Internal lighting

LED lighting is installed to minimise electricity usage and give 200 lumen light intensity in the post weaning calf house.