Polysquare hutches are being recommended by a University of Guelph researcher as the best hutch housing for dairy calves after performance tests conducted at Kemptville College.
Most dairy farmers begin using individual dairy calf hutches to prevent disease. Other benefits include durability, easier sanitation, and improved welfare and overall health of the calves.
During the two-year trial, Dennis McKnights compared four different kinds of hutches:
- polysquare hutches, made of thermomoulded opaque polymer with ridge-top and side-adjustable ventilation.
- University of Virginia hutches, with latticed front and sloped metal roof.
- Traditional wooden huntches;
- Polyethylene domes
McKnight evaluated the structures on the basis of cost, durability, portability, ease of sanitation and calf performance. The polysquare ranked first in each category except calf performance and cost. Calves housed in the polysquare hutches grew nearly as well as calves housed in University of Virginia hutches and better than calves in traditional wooden hutches and polyethylene domes.
The kind of hutch you choose is just one factor contributing to raising healthy calves, says researcher
At about $400 each, polysquares are more expensive that either the wooden or University of Virginia hutches but comparable to the polyethylene domes, already used on many Ontario farms. Although the wooden and University of Virginia hutches are less expensive, they're also less durable and need replacing sooner than either squares or domes notes McKnight.
As well, polysquares and polydomes are easiest to clean. This may help prevent illness when a new calf moves into one.
The research results also suggest air quality improves calf performance. Hutches with good ventilation, like the polysquares, were superior to those with poor air circulation, such as the polydomes. The domes became excessively hot during the summer and fall, and calves had to be allowed outside to cool off. However, the polysquare hutches had built-in vents and superior air exchange.
McKnight's study involved 160 calves in tests conducted twice in every season over a two-year period. He had expected different hutches would perform better in either cold or warm weather, but this was not the case. The polysquare and University of Virginia hutches were superior in calf performance over other choices in every season.
Based on the overall results, and especially on dura-bility, ease of sanitation and portability, McKnight recom-mends polysquare hutches over all others. However, McKnight stresses, hutch choice is no guarantee of good calf performance. There are other important factors to consider.
"Regardless of what is cho-sen, proper management and maintenance of the calf is important," he says. "Hutch type is only a piece of the puzzle. It seems to offer a beneficial environment for calf health by keeping it clean and dry."
Jen Sedmihradsky is a student writer in the Office of Research, University of Guelph. Research reported in this article is sponsored by the Ontario Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs.