Investing £35,000 in fit-for-purpose housing has transformed calf rearing at a Pembrokeshire dairy farm.

Rearing was once the most challenging job at Trebover Farm, near Fishguard, since calves had been housed in the same building as the 220-cow milking herd.

That sharing of air space had health consequences for the younger, more vulnerable animals and disease transmission was aggravated by calves being penned in large groups.

Pressure on animals and people forced brothers Rhys and Randall Williams, and their father, Phil, to have a rethink.

They opted to invest in a steel frame purpose-built shed that has proven to be a healthy environment for youngstock and an enjoyable one for rearers to work in.

“Calving is much more enjoyable with healthy, strong calves that want to eat and grow well,’’ says Rhys.

A lot of thought was given to where the shed should be positioned.

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It was built on a greenfield site in a south-westerly position where there is a good circulation of fresh air but protected from the wind and upwind from the cow housing.

“In our old housing the fresh air had to pass through all the milking cows before it eventually got to the calves,’’ Rhys explains.

Priorities in design were ease of feeding, management and cleaning.

This has been achieved in the overall design, but what has worked especially well is having pens set up for 10 calves, “a really manageable number’’, says Rhys.

“As with any job, breaking it down into sections makes everything easier, and small groups means we can monitor calves better.

“Each pen has a teat feeder with 10 separate compartments so every calf has its own feeding section which means we can visually monitor each calf individually to make sure they are getting the right intakes of milk.

‘’If one calf is being too greedy and takes milk from another we move it up to an older group.’’

Although the aim is to group calves according to age, within a two-week age spread, speed of drinking is taken into account too.

For simplicity of management, lever-operated gates designed for sheep pens have been installed.

A one-in-60 gradient in the concrete floor under the raised bedding area means moisture can run off the straw bedding to the feeding areas, which are covered in sawdust, and into the gulleys outside the pens.

Raising the bedding areas and separating these from where the calves feed prevents a build-up of moisture and pathogens and keeps straw relatively clean and dry.

“Calves spend 80% of their time laying down so it was important that we got that right,’’ says Rhys.

Doubling up on Perspex roof lights maximises sunlight coming into the building, he adds.

“This is something we have in our poultry shed and we had noticed how birds spent a lot of time in those shafts of sunlight, enjoying the warmth.

“Having that extra daylight makes everything a little easier, it is a lighter, better environment for us to manage the calves. In the old calf shed we had to turn the lights on even when the sun was shining. ‘’

Walls are 1.5m high pre-cast concrete panels topped with solid box profile sheets.

The panels are offset from the side cladding, by around four inches, to leave a large, horizontal and protected gap which allows air to move over the calves at calf height before being vented out through the ridge in the roof.

That gap also removes heat, moisture and bugs but rain can’t get into the shed.

Within four hours of birth, calves receive four litres of colostrum, tested for immunoglobulins value using a Brix refractometer; it must score 22% or higher.

Fresh whole milk with protein and fat levels of 28-32% is introduced in the second feed, with two litres fed twice a day for the first two weeks. This increases to three litres twice a day up to week seven.

“From week seven we reduce the volume to 1.5 litres twice a day and start weaning at week eight,’’ says Rhys.

“Coarse mix is offered ad-lib from birth – when calves are eating 2kg/head/day they are ready to be weaned.’’