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Animal Health Ireland is a not-for-profit organisation that is funded by The Irish Department of Agriculture and private sector businesses. AHI is tasked with pursuing effective control strategies for economically important diseases of livestock which are not subject to international regulation.
As part of ongoing AHI work, a group of experts was commissioned to provide evidence-based advice on calf health and disease management to Irish farmers, agricultural advisers and veterinary practitioners.

The findings of this expert group were published in

The Irish Veterinary Journal volume 64, Article number: 14

WHY SINGLE PENS?

Animal Health Ireland
Animal Health Ireland is a not-for-profit organisation that is funded by The Irish Department of Agriculture and private sector businesses. AHI is tasked with pursuing effective control strategies for economically important diseases of livestock which are not subject to international regulation.
As part of ongoing AHI work, a group of experts was commissioned to provide evidence-based advice on calf health and disease management to Irish farmers, agricultural advisers and veterinary practitioners.

The findings of this expert group were published in The Irish Veterinary Journal volume 64, Article number: 14

"The single most important factor determining the success of therapy in calves with pneumonia is early onset of treatment, and subsequent adequate duration of treatment. The efficacy and economical viability of vaccination against respiratory disease in calves remains unclear.”


The AHI Expert Group go on to emphasise that 


“Calfhood diseases have a major impact on the economic viability of cattle operations, due to the direct costs of calf losses and treatment and the long-term effects on performance”
So how best to deal with respiratory and other diseases in pre-weaned calves? 

Calf housing
The AHI Experts suggestion is individual housing of calves.

“Individual housing of dairy calves, either indoors or outside, is generally linked with improved calf health. There is long-term recognition of the benefit to dairy calf health of outdoor housing in hutches, especially for the prevention of diarrhoea and respiratory disease [9]. Hutches have been associated with lower morbidity and mortality in dairy calves”

The AHI Experts make further endorsements of individual pen type dividers similar to the Invet modular pens and state that this type of individual housing reduces the risk of respiratory diseases. 
“If calves are housed individually in naturally ventilated calf barns, solid dividers on the side of pens, together with a high 'nesting score', lower the risk for respiratory disease”

 
Calf pens

The AHI Experts go onto say that a number of trials have found higher level of disease and death in group housing compared to individual pens.


“There have been mixed reports on the impact of group housing of calves, both indoors and outside, on calf health. A number of authors have reported higher morbidity [14–19] and mortality [12] among group-housed pre-weaned dairy calves compared to individual housing.”


The AHI Experts are particularly critical of the “dynamic” type grouping that is regularly used to accommodate computerised automatic feeders.


“Calves in stable groups had significantly higher daily live weight gains than those in dynamic groups (where new calves were continuously introduced to and exited group housing). The prevalence of both diarrhoea and respiratory disease was more than twice as high among calves in dynamic compared to stable groups [24]. Grouping calves of similar age lowers the risk of respiratory disease compared to groups with wider age differences”

Calf hosuing pens

The AHI Experts further state that 
“A review of group housing of dairy calves with different feeding systems concluded that group housing increases the risk of infection, especially in larger groups and thus requires more skills and poses more challenges to management [27].”


And the final conclusion of The AHI Experts is a very strong endorsement of the health benefits of individual hutches over indoor housing systems.


“Overall, outdoor individual hutches appear superior to indoor housing, and individual housing/small group housing appears superior to large group housing with regards to calf health.”