delivering at calving

Creating the right environment for calves

Pneumonia is the most common reason for death and poor performance in youngstock between birth and 10 months with an estimated cost to the UK cattle industry of about £50 million each year.

There are a number of factors effecting pneumonia risk, including:

• Environment
• Immunity
• Pathogens.

Although this article will focus on environmental factors, immunity and the range of pathogens in the environment cannot be ignored and should all be considered when implementing good practice.

The Environment


Like all livestock, calves need a well-ventilated environment to thrive. However, it is important with calves to balance temperature and ventilation without creating a draught.

Effective ventilation requires an inlet and an outlet. In older cattle, the ‘stack effect’ (hot air rising) can be relied on to remove warm air through a roof ridge. However, youngstock do not create enough heat for this to occur and air can become stale and harbour pathogens.

Side wall cladding such as space or Yorkshire boarding is typically used as an air inlet. While space boarding can provide a good level of ventilation it can also let in harsh winds and wet weather, neither of which are ideal for calves.

Galebreaker fabric is 25% open, letting fresh air in while keeping the worse of the weather out. Mole Valley Farmers offer bayscreens and rollerscreens, both of which are ideal for creating a well-ventilated building.

Air can also be brought in and forced out of the building through a positive pressure tube system. Recent research suggests the

absence of positive pressure tube ventilation (PPTV) was associated with an 80% increase in the likelihood of a calf being diagnosed as sick (Jorgensen et al, 2017).

When designing a PPTV system, it is vital the fan and tube are calculated correctly to achieve the right level of ventilation according to stocking density, age of youngstock and building dimensions. Not taking these factors into account could result in an ineffective system or worse, creating a draught and chill.

Typically, well-designed positive pressure tubes reduce pneumonia treatments by 50-75%
(Dairyland Institute).

Positive pressure tubes are ideal for older buildings, which may not have originally been used for calves and lack the right amount of ventilation. Galebreaker’s VentTube Fresh runs 24/7 delivering the right amount of clean, fresh air at calf level.

Some tell-tale signs will indicate inadequate ventilation.

These include:

1. Cobwebs – suggests poor airflow

2. Damp bedding – suggest humidity

Using a fogger or smoke bomb will help to identify areas where the air is hanging. The team at Galebreaker will also help you.


Research suggests the quality of the bedding is associated with respiratory disease in calves. Bedding must be dry and allow nesting in the winter months. Nesting allows the calf to maintain body temperature while benefitting from a well-ventilated environment.

The University of Wisconsin has developed a scoring system used to assess the nesting ability of bedding. A nesting score of three (optimal) is seen where the deep bedding covers all her legs when lying down. Where bedding is not as deep as this, calf jackets could be used to maintain temperature.

Group housing vs separate pens

The choice between group housing or separate pens is going to be influenced by practical and economic factors, but the impact on calf health should also be considered. Calves should be housed away from older cattle and should not share ‘airspace’. In practice, this means there should be at least four metres between youngstock and older cattle. Older cattle can carry diseases, which would be devasting to youngstock, so barriers should be in place to prevent cross-contamination.

Pens with solid walls have been linked to reduced respiratory disease, yet bacterial counts are often higher due to the walls creating a barrier to airflow. The answer to this conundrum is using positive pressure tubes over pens. As can be seen in the image, VentTube Fresh delivers fresh air to calf pens, which otherwise would have suffered with stale, dirty air.

For more information, please speak to your local store or call our
Sales and general enquiries team on 01769 576415.