Ask us: Why do your calves live in little plastic houses?
Welcome to "Ask us" -- a series of posts designed to answer some of our most frequently asked questions. It took over an hour to get to the nearest dairy farm from the house I grew up in. While the local nursery had a few goats and the occasionally pig, animal agricultural was very distant from where I grew up. My life has changed significantly in the last decade and I now boast skills like being able to milk a cow, drive a tractor, and bottle feed a calf. When I go home to visit, I get asked some really interesting questions. I thought I would take a crack at answering some of those questions here
Why do your calves live in tiny plastic houses?
Our calves currently live on our front lawn in tiny plastic houses called calf hutches. Each calf has its own hutch and access to plentiful, fresh grass in front of its hutch. Our calves like to chill outside their hutches most of the day, but on especially hot days, cold nights, or rainy afternoons our calves love the protection from the elements that the hutches provide. We have chosen to house our calves in hutches for these first few years on our farm because the hutches provided safe, reliable, and effective housing for our young animals while we became more established.
We will be moving our calves into a building this winter, but that is more for our comfort than for theirs. As our calves start to transition to grass or hay, they start ruminating and the process of digestion acts like a little furnace in their tummy. While we take extra measures in extreme cold, like bedding their hutches with extra straw and providing warmer water, our calves stay warm, dry, and happy in their hutches during even the most brutal February blizzards.
Moving the calves inside will be a huge benefit to our quality of life. Instead of lugging warm water from the milk house (which inevitably ends with me spilling half down my pant leg) each calf pen will have a frost-free waterer. Instead of clearing snow from in front of each calf hut, our calves will be under a barn roof and snow is a non-issue when we are indoors. Moving the calves indoors will also allow us to more carefully monitor our animals and control their environment. And, finally, moving our calves indoors means that we will have fewer knocks on the door at midnight “hey, your calf is in the road/dragging its calf hutch through the ditch”