With the expansion in dairy cow numbers, we have seen greater numbers of calves come on to beef farms year-on-year.

Some farmers have opted to build purpose-built accommodation for these calves where they are rearing them in large numbers, but changes to existing farm buildings can be made to make them work well for rearing dairy beef calves.


Calf houses need to be well ventilated, with cool, fresh air being able to enter the building and warm stale air allowed to exit. Having a well-ventilated building will help prevent diseases such as pneumonia spreading throughout the building.

If the sides of a building are sealed off with solid sheeting, using vented sheeting or installing Yorkshire boarding will aid in increasing the amount of fresh air coming into the shed.

You need to be careful not to create cold draughts of air, so make sure the air inlet is above the calf’s head height.

  • Top tip: Kneel down to a calves’ height and stay there for one to two minutes to see if draughts are present.
  • Bedding

    Calves spend up to 80% of their time lying down, so ensuring that they have a clean, dry bed is very important. A deep layer of straw (15cm deep) will allow calves to nestle in and creates a cosy environment for them.

    A calf will require just over one small square bale of straw per week, or if you are using round bales, approximately eight calves will use a bale each week they are housed.

    Wood shavings or bark can also be used, but make sure they are not treated with a preservative, as this could be toxic to calves. It is important that the bedding remains dry, so ideally, the bedded area will have a slope on it leading to a drainage channel that will remove soiled water.

  • Top tip: To check that the bedding is dry, kneel down on one knee for 10 seconds. When you stand up again, your knee should be dry. If not, you need to remove the wet bedding and replace it with fresh material.
  • Feeding areas

    Ideally, you should locate water troughs and feed areas away from the straw-bedded area. Some farmers will use a timber or concrete ledge to separate dry concrete areas from bedded areas, like in the main photo above.

    Having a slatted area for feeding calves helps keep the area clean and dry. This may work well for those changing over a beef shed with slats at the front and a creep/lie-back area at the back of the shed.

    Drinking bowls should be fitted at calf height and ideally located away from bedded areas to prevent spillage or leaks causing bedding to become wet.

    Calves should have access to clean water at all times, so a water trough at calf height is necessary. Calves should be given roughage in the form of hay or silage to help develop their rumen and aid digestion of the milk they drink, so a hay rack should be fitted. If you are using straw as a bedding material, you should not use it as a roughage source, as calves may eat dirty straw bedding, which may lead to diseases. Concentrates (ration or calf nuts) should be available to calves. Where this is not fed ad-lib (in a creep feeder), you need to ensure that you have adequate trough space (350mm per calf) for all calves to eat at the same time.