Climate Controlled Calf Nursery [Photo
article from Country Today - Updated: 12/3/2008 9:34:01
- Will and Jim Hensen have been successful at getting the
most out of their milking herd but they have been looking
for a way to give their calves a head start.
Hensens built a power-ventilated 80-stall calf barn they
believe will keep their calves healthy and growing fast.
"After last year's cold winter, we were looking for
something to keep the calves comfortable and make it more
pleasant to take care of them," Will said. "Newborn
calves have a tough time (in an open-air structure) when
it's 20 below zero."
The Hensens did their homework on several calf facilities
before contracting with Larry Kubly and Blue Diamond Marketing
in Strawberry Point, Iowa, to build their new setup. Construction
began in July and calves were scheduled to be moved into
the facilities this week.
the calf barn of all calf barns," Mr. Kubly said about
the Hensens' new 40-by-112-foot building. "This is
the first of its kind in the United States. There isn't
anything like this that we know of."
building's five rooms each hold 16 calves. There are flush
pits 16 inches deep under each row of calves, with hot-water-heated
steel grates over the top of the pits to heat to 70 degrees
the area where the calves sleep. The grates are self-cleaning
and eliminate the need for bedding.
five rooms are power ventilated to circulate air out of
the attic in the summer. Mr. Kubly said air will be exchanged
in the room every 45 seconds.
solar panels will preheat the incoming winter air. An outdoor
wood stove - with an LP-gas backup system - will provide
heat for the hot-water radiators and in-floor heating system.
The barn will be heated to between 40 and 50 degrees in
Kubly said winter is the most difficult time of year to
keep livestock facilities clean, but the calf barn's design
allows the building's equipment to be cleaned without removal
or hauling to another site. He said there's nothing to take
apart and put back together, and it can all be sprayed off
said they had been considering new calf facilities for four
or five years but became serious about building a new system
earlier this year.
looked at smaller buildings, but we wanted bigger pens for
the calves," Jim said.
said the facility will be a significant upgrade from their
old calf barn. The brothers joked that feeding the calves
will evolve from a winter job that no one wanted to do to
one that everyone will be volunteering for.
ventilation system won't cool the air in the building in
the summer but will lower the humidity by 15 to 18 percent
and keep the air moving above the calves, Mr. Kubly said.
Kubly said more dairy farmers are beginning to realize the
importance of getting calves off to a good start.
"The calf is worth a lot of money today," he said.
"Studies have shown that the optimum temperature for
calves is 50 degrees.
that, they need more high-priced milk replacer to keep their
bodies warm. Keeping water in front of them all the time
helps them build their immune system and fight off pneumonia
and other bugs.
calves genetically can put on 2 pounds a day. If they can
maintain that growth, in eight weeks they look like they're
Kubly said many university experts argue that calves should
be kept in the open air, but he disagrees.
say it's better if calves are kept cold - I'm saying that's
not true," he said. "I've built power-ventilated
barns and the results are phenomenal."
Kubly said the Hensens' calf facility cost more than the
$1,500 to $2,000 per calf that many farmers spend, but he
said there are tradeoffs.
other facilities take more management and labor to keep
clean," Mr. Kubly said. "And there are certainly
advantages to not having to spend money on bedding and having
Kubly said the building design and the fact that a bedded
pack isn't used in the pens help reduce the structure size
by as much as 50 percent. The facility allows 12 square
feet per calf instead of the traditional 25 to 32 square
feet required when using a bedded pack.
Hensens had Dane County's top herd on Dairy Herd Improvement
records as of Sept. 30, based on cheese yield and butterfat.
The rolling herd average on their 350 cows is more than
32,000 pounds per cow.
son Kyle and Jim's son Jason are full-time employees in
the business that has been in the family since 1867. Kyle
represent the fifth generation of Hensens in the operation.
in it for the boys - if they want to farm we're behind them
100 percent," Jim said.
Hensens operate about 180 acres of cropland near Waunakee
and rent another 270 acres near Dodgeville in Iowa County,
about 60 miles away.
said it isn't likely they'll be expanding cow numbers at
the Waunakee location, with a Middleton housing development
about a half-mile away and Waunakee encroaching from the
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