The bottle calves on the farm also need housing but their needs are a little more particular. They are small, have more delicate immune systems and are more susceptible to changing weather conditions. Because of their special needs, we house them in these strange looking looking box like things called ‘calf hutches.’ :)
We have chosen to use calf hutches for a variety of reasons. They really provide an ideal environment for each calf.
The ability to give each calf its own individual little house helps prevent the spread of disease. If a calf DOES get sick, the sickness is more likely to be isolated to just that one calf and we can give it extra care to help it recover as quickly as possible. On the other hand, if the calves were all housed in a group pen, any sickness would spread quickly throughout the group. When calves get sick they have very few reserves to help them recover. Not only is it heartbreaking to watch a little calf suffer, but sickness in ‘calfhood’ can have a huge impact on their adult lives too. Cows that were sick as a calf oftentimes produce less milk throughout their lifetime and can have recurring illnesses later in life due to things like decreased lung capacity or adhesions in the body cavity. And steers may take longer to reach market weight and may not reach their full potential due to time and weight lost during those critical early days of life.
The other great thing about calf hutches is that they are able to keep the calves warm in the winter and cool in the summer. Even though they are small, calves are capable of producing a fair amount of body heat. In the small, micro-environment of the hutch, this heat is conserved and the calf is essentially able to heat its own little house! Now, it isn’t going to be 70 degrees in a hutch in the middle of winter, but they definitely take the edge off. I’ve ducked in more than one calf hutch in the wintertime under the pretense of checking a calf but really I was just getting warmed up! Shhh, don't tell NP ;) And we have to remember that calves thrive at different temperatures than you and I do. Seventy degrees is borderline too warm for them while 33 or 34 degrees doesn’t bother them at all!
To make this all work, we also have to provide plenty of clean, DRY bedding like straw or chopped up cornstalks to help insulate them from the cold ground and also to give them something to nestle down into. During really cold spells, we can also put little calf ‘coats’ on the younger calves that have a harder time self-regulating their temperature. And we can cover the front door when it snows or rains or the wind is just too strong!
And when that time comes, I’ll be sure to share pictures!
Brun Ko Farm