I don’t know about you, but where I live, its in the teens with a wind chill in the negatives. So, needless to say, I’m very thankful to be in my cozy house today with a hot cup of coffee (or 3). In the winter, I love curling under a blanket with my fleece leggings on while either watching Criminal Minds (my guilty pleasure) or reading a magazine or good book. We have a space heater that keeps the living room toasty, and sometimes I like to light candles around the house for a little smell good glow! What makes your house cozy in the cold snap of winter?
So – on to a dairy calf’s house. I’ve seen a few posts on social media lately with a picture of a dairy calf in a hutch, a small shelter surrounded by a wire enclosure that the calf usually stays in until weaning. Most dairy farms house their calves in these hutches, and for good reason! And first and foremost, pictures of calves in hutches are not veal calves to be sold for meat. They are the future generation of that farm’s dairy herd!
One of the ladies on a dairy girl Facebook group I am apart of explains it excellently: The calves in their hutches are like babies in a nursery. That’s exactly the stage in their life they are at. And so each calf has their own “bassinet” (their hutch) just like each human baby would in a nursery.
Each hutch allows the farmer or calf caretaker to give specific individual care to each calf as they stop by each one. You can check how much they have eaten and how much water they have had to drink, how they are looking, and if they are feeling good. Just like if you were to feed a bunch of toddlers out of one bowl, you couldn’t see how much each one ate, right? And when all of the kids that play together in a daycare get sick, its hard to figure who was the first, right? Hence, why its easier for dairy farmers to watch each calf’s health and well-being if they are each in their own individual hutch.
Also, as you well know, kids in daycare spread germs because they are touching each other and the same inanimate objects all day long, thus once one gets sick, they all do. After calves drink their milk, they like to suck on everything around them in addition to each other – spreading germs the same way young children do. Living in individualized hutches keeps calves from doing that so they have less of a risk of getting sick.
Continuing with the disease prevention goal, obviously cleanliness is important too. It takes less time and is easier to clean one room than it does the whole house, correct? Same with hutches. The hutches are also usually made of heavy duty plastic with a perimeter of wire fencing, both of which are easy to move around, making cleaning all the more easier.
These hutches also have vents on the sides and top for nice ventilation – no one likes a stuffy house!
And because each calf has a their own little space, they can choose to go outside and soak up some sunshine or play in some rain, or stay inside their hutch and lay down all day.
Now, I’m not pretending hutches are the perfect calf house. It wouldn’t be fair if I didn’t explain all sides to the story and I want this blog to be open about agriculture. The industry is looking at other ways to house calves because each farm is different and some things can be better done in a different housing situation.
Hutches are harder to keep warmer in the winter – farmers usually pile the straw inside heavy or maybe even have heat lamps and also put calf coats on the calves (yes, they have winter coats too!). Also, if a calf is not feeling like coming out of her hutch, someone has to go get her when it’s meal time, and those hutches aren’t easy to get into (unless you are bite sized like me), and that’s also after you have already climbed over the wire fence. Now, multiply that by say 10 calves that need to be looked at closer than from outside the hutch. Is anyone else seeing a little P90x action going on?
Furthermore, each hutch will have to have it’s own set of buckets for food and water, and its more labor intensive to feed row after row of calves their bottles of milk. Some of the bigger dairy farms can have 50 – 100 + calves to feed at a time – you can easily see the struggle. Plus, in winter, you can imagine how fun (I say this with the heaviest sarcasm) it would be to trudge around outside feeding calves and probably also getting a little path shoveling in between hutches as well (P90x part 2 coming at ya!). That cup of coffee and those fleecy pants would be well earned!
The farm I work for doesn’t have hutches – they have individual stalls much like at a horse stable for their calves. But I still have to do the trudging back to the calf barn along the Great Ice Path!
Whew, that was a lot longer than I thought. I’m glad I didn’t make it a Morning Milking Musing – its half a novel, not just a quick musing!
Happy snowy blowy trails, all!