Hutches are an effective housing system to raise healthy calves. One of the key goals for dairy calf managers is calves double their birthweight in the first 60 days of life. During the summer months, hutches need to be managed to alleviate or minimize heat stress for the calf so that calves retain a healthy appetite and weight gain continues. Calf managers need to consider hutch location, air movement, shading, and bedding as summer hutch management factors.
One advantage of hutches is that they are easy to move. In the summer, reposition hutches to face east and avoid afternoon sun beating into the interior. Move hutches away from structures that block the wind, like silos, barns, and bunkers. That was an advantage in the winter, but not the summer months. When considering summer hutch location, think about other summer activities on the farm. Fieldwork and equipment moving up and down lanes may stir up dust that could potentially irritate the calf’s respiratory system and/or settle into water and milk buckets. Locate hutches away from these locations. Many hutches have rear and/or top vents. Make sure those are open to promote air flow. Placing a block under the back wall of the hutch to raise it several inches off the ground will also improve air movement and flow. In the summer provide at least 4 feet of space between hutches and 10 feet between hutch rows.
Shading does help hutches provide a more comfortable environment for calves in summer heat. Studies have shown that providing additional shade does reduce the temperature inside hutches and lowers calf body temperature and respiration rate. A study in Alabama showed a 3-degree reduction in the inside temperature of plastic hutches shaded with an 80% shade cloth positioned 4 feet above the hutch compared to un-shaded hutches. A Missouri study used 80% shade cloth positioned 3 feet above plastic hutches. This study showed a 4-degree reduction inside the hutch, and skin temperatures of calves in these shaded hutches averaged 4 degrees lower than calves in un-shaded hutches. Additionally, the respiratory rates of calves in shaded hutches were 10 breaths/minute lower than calves in hutches not shaded.
During the summer months, hutches should be bedded with material that does not retain heat. Wood shavings and sand are better options for summer bedding as compared to straw. Providing calves with a small outdoor pen attached to the hutch may also increase calf comfort and be useful in managing heat stress as compared to calves confined inside the hutch. Another function that hutches provide is protection for young calves from harmful UV rays. However, the ability of plastic hutches to provide UV protection will degrade over time. Use a flashlight to evaluate UV protection. If light from a flashlight penetrates the hutch during the day, it is probably time to replace the hutch.
Cover Crop Forage Options After Wheat
Wheat is turning color in fields, indicating that wheat harvest is just around the corner. After wheat harvest, there is still a significant chunk of the growing season left. What are options to put that land into productive use? Double crop soybeans are a traditional answer, but a hard look at the economics of this practice, given projected soybean prices and the yield hit of late planted soybeans warrants consideration of the use of a cover crop for forage. Given the fact that farms are reporting first cutting forage as a high-quality decreased tonnage situation, this might be the year to try a cover crop as forage following wheat harvest. Jason Hartschuh, Extension Educator in Crawford County recently wrote a good article entitled “Cover Crop Considerations After Wheat”. I am going to excerpt a few of his comments in this column. You can read the entire article at https://u.osu.edu/beef/2020/06/17/cover-crop-considerations-after-wheat/.
“One of the greatest economic benefits of cover crops can be found by using them as a forage. Growers receive the soil protection benefits along with a forage to feed cattle. The most common forages planted after wheat include forage sorghum, sorghum-sudan and oats. Forage sorghum and sorghum-sudan are the highest-yielding and should be planted in early July; they require 100 pounds of nitrogen to maximize yield. Oats should not be planted until Aug. 1, along with an application of 50 pounds of nitrogen. Oats is the only one of these crops with the potential to be made as dry hay. Often though, all of them will need to be harvested as silage or baleage. Another option for harvest is to graze the cover crop, allowing for more species to be planted — including turnips, radish, clover, peas and many more.”
One tool to assist with species selection and seeding rate is the cover crop selection tool from the Midwest Cover Crop Council. It is available online at http://mccc.msu.edu/covercroptool/covercroptool.php. Contact the Wayne County Extension office at 330-264-8722 for more information about cover crop forage options.
Rory Lewandowski is an OSU Extension Agriculture & Natural Resources Educator and may be reached at 330-264-8722.
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