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Designing cow-centred facilities for replacements

Robert E. Graves Published on 20 November 2012

Cow-centred dairy farms include animal- and worker-friendly procedures and facilities for raising dairy replacements from birth to pre-calving.

They provide clean, dry and comfortable living spaces for these important animals and accommodate non-uniform calving rates and the changing animal needs based on age, weight, health and management. A variety of housing types and arrangements can be used to assemble a productive replacement raising system including:



Individual baby calf pen or hutch
Weaned group calf pen
Bedded pack

Penn State agricultural engineers have assembled more than 70 plans along with design information including grouping tables and growth charts (Click here to view Penn State Housing Plans for Calves and Heifers, NRAES-201).

This handy reference will help farmers, their advisers and contractors to develop and build a modern calf and heifer-centreed system. Important items to consider include:

Changing needs of growing animals for space, feed and management
Variability in calving patterns – calvings per month and sex
Health and death loss
Management goals
Observation and treatment requirements
Infectious disease control (chore patterns, manure flow, air flow, animal movement, shared equipment, vectors and visitors)
Excellent ventilation

The number, growth and distribution of heifer calves will vary from herd to herd and year to year. Sizing and selecting buildings for calves and heifers for a particular size herd will always be an estimate, but you have to start somewhere.


If you don’t have any data for your herd, the following procedure for estimating housing needs for a herd with 100 mature cows (females that have calved at least once) may be helpful:

Assume 1.05 calvings per cow in herd per year (100 x 1.05 = 105 calves)

Calves per month if uniform calving (105/12= 8.8 calves)

Assume 1:1 heifer:bull ratio (8.8/2 = 4.4 heifers per month)

95 percent of heifers are raised (4.4 x 0.95= 4 calves raised per month)

24 months total grow-out period (24 x 4 = 96 total animals)


Assume six to eight weeks in individual housing and six to eight weeks in weaned calf pens

Oversize facilities for birth to 135-kilogram animals by 50 percent to account for variability in numbers of heifer calves and to allow for sanitation between animals

Flexibility in grouping and feeding for animals more than 135 kilograms is necessary to accommodate bulges in animal numbers as they work through the system

System will house animals to approximately one month prior to freshening (23 months)

Other influences that can impact animal numbers and distribution may include improvements in calving procedures that result in more live births, growth in herd size and decrease in sickness and mortality in the replacement enterprise.  PD

In addition to Penn State Housing Plans for Calves and Heifers, other publications related to housing and raising dairy replacements can be found. Click here to view, and click here

—Excerpts from Penn State Dairy Digest, December 2011

Robert Graves