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Video ( 3 ) Five things to get right at housing

There are several key things that influence animal health and performance. Nutrition, herd health and the environment the animals are in.
In seasonal pasture-based systems, housing usually occurs at a critical time. This means that calving and lambing occurs when animals are indoors.
Getting facilities right to allow animals to optimise their biology really pays off.
Here are what I think are 5 key factors to get right at housing

1. Space

Less can be more sometimes. If we can optimise the biology of animals in farming systems we can reduce stress and improve health. Optimising biology is a simple theory of mine by which we understand the behaviours and needs of animals to make sure they are comfortable, healthy and exhibit normal behaviour.
For cows that is a space to lie down (a cubicle), for ewes or cows, it is space to lie down in a warm dry bed.
Outdoors cattle will spend a large portion of their day lying down, indoors animals need space to do the same. In cubicle housing also animals need space to move around and reduce bullying. This means space around cross overs and around drinkers.
Cows are very social creatures and heifers in particular value space to move around get to water and feed space.
Having adequate feedspace is also essential for animals while indoors.

I know space costs money, but it really can be a long term investment that really pays off.
Calves require a minimum of 1.7 metres squared in group pens, although I’m pushing for 2 where possible. I have found where I have pushed this to 2 metres squared recently on one farm pneumonia issues were reduced (they were vaccinating).

Have your individual lambing pens big enough for ewes to turn around in about 2metres x 1 metre.
The key thing to remember in housing is space pays. Also with animals tightly packed, you get more stress and shedding/spreading of disease.

2. Fresh air

When housing cattle and sheep fresh air is your best friend. It contains a natural disinfectant called ozone. Fresh air is vital to get right in housing. It also keeps sheds dry and will reduce the risk of disease like pneumonia.

With cattle or sheep, they produce heat so we must be very careful to reduce the build-up of moisture and humidity.
Adequate outlet on the roof (to let hot air escape) and inlets (2 x size of outlet) to allow fresh air in. We refer to this as the “stack effect” and in our sheds want this to work well.
Take note of where the prevailing wind is coming from when building sheds. Face the long axis of your shed into the prevailing wind.
Watch the VIDEO above where I talk about the stalk effect and much more.

With calves, it can be more difficult to balance fresh air because calves on milk don’t generate much heat so in particular dairy calf housing needs to be planned out well. My model is more milk and more fresh air where possible.
We also must try and avoid draughts or excessive cold air blowing in on young animals.

My experience with adult ruminant animals, they don’t worry too much about cold and more open sheds work well.
My opinion on topless cubicles is they work fine when the weather is dry. I find when it’s wet they are difficult to manage particularly with freshly calved cows and mastitis control. With any farmers who have put them in, I always said have a contingency for a simple roof in the future.
Mechanical ventilation also works really well in sheds where they are used correctly.

3. Comfort

This is a key factor for successful housing in ruminants. This is simple it is the lying environment, the temperature of the house and how comfortable the animal is in this.
So if cows have a comfortable bed they will lie down. This is critical for ruminants as indoors they can spend up to 12-14 hours a day lying down. While lying down animals will be ruminating, this is a very important function to help performance and production.

So a target for every dairy farm is a cubicle per cow indoors at calving time. Your transition cows are especially important and even more so your heifers. That cubicle must be comfortable. That means the right size and the right bedding (surface). If we can get those dairy cows lying down we can get them producing more milk.
Cattle on slats really thrive where matting is installed over slats to aid in comfort while standing.

Sheep also like space to feed and also to lie down. A risk for prolapses pre-lambing can be where ewes don’t have enough space. This is particularly true where feedspace is lower than required. This creates extra jostling bullying and potentially leads to issues like twin lamb disease and prolapses. Remember ruminants are herd species and feed together often so space at the feedspace is even more critical.
If you could buy shares in straw I should have done so a long time ago. Straw bedding is fantastic to keep animals warm and comfortable indoors.
For calves and lambs, comfort is important also. One factor with comfort in younger animals is warmth. Keep very young calves and lambs warm during cold weather again plenty straw and with calves, jackets are a good investment.









Progiene Coxicur broad-spectrum disinfectant

4. Hygiene

Indoors where we have animals in close proximity we always want to reduce infection pressure through better hygiene. Infection pressure is the amount of bugs (bacteria/viruses) in the environment.
We are all learning with the spread of coronavirus how important hygiene is in reducing the spread of disease.
It is the same in animal housing and animal health. Good hygiene indoors reduces the spread of disease.

If I pick clinical mastitis as an example. If we reduce the amount of faeces the teat end is exposed to indoors, we help reduce the risk of mastitis.
An example of this in dairy cows is running scrapers regularly, scraping (liming) beds. In ewes at lambing time having individual pens well-bedded with straw. These pens can be cleaned and limed in between ewes.

Hygiene must be made easy where possible. Have pens set up so they are easy to clean out? Have water drinkers that are easy to tip over and clean regularly.
Again when we talk about hygiene in lose penning fresh, clean and dry straw is hard to beat.
Between seasons housing should get a deep clean to prevent the build-up of bugs with a suitable disinfectant.

5. Drainage

In a lot of sheds, we don’t look at this enough. Good drainage is essential to improving hygiene and reducing down moisture.
This is one big advantage of slats, is they allow the drainage to occur freely. However, in sheds with a solid floor, it is really important to get that floor gradient right.
Remember moisture is the enemy indoors, as damp bedding can be a breeding ground for issues with mastitis and feet. Moisture also leads to the build-up of humidity in sheds which can increase the risk of pneumonia.
Get a good fall in floors where they are solid with gradients of 1:20 and make sure all drains are working and free-flowing.
One tip for farmers with automatic calf feeders is to put bigger drains and more incline around them.


Housing can have a huge influence on animal health, so get the simple things right for a long term return.

Thought for the day

Think of all that space you have on-farm, right now people are craving that which maybe sometimes we take for granted in the countryside. Get out and start enjoying it, stretch the legs and take it all in.

If people feel I can help them in any way my email is info@tommythevet.ie
Big thanks to Nettex for their support in helping me make #50in50 happen http://www.net-tex.co.uk

Happy safe farming




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