By Lisa Boonstoppel-Pot
After digging out the calf hutches during the great Christmas snowstorm of 2022 and worrying about the health of his calves, Tyler Hendriks decided to adapt a section of a new storage shed into a calf barn for his Jersey calves.
The new build created machinery storage, commodity storage and reserved space for an open calf barn, complete with turkey curtains and a special, draft-proof entrance. With pens for 39 calves and room for 50 underneath two air tubes, the calves live inside Agri-Plastic Flex-Pens that are eight feet in length. Designed to European animal welfare standards, the pens have windows built in the partitions to allow calves to see each other. Each partition can be removed to create group housing, a requirement that may come into place once the updated Dairy Code of Practice is released this year. Hendriks prefers having calves in individual pens to prevent cross-sucking but is open to pairing calves if required under the new code.
Calves at Hendriks Dairies Ltd near Brucefield are born in large birthing pens in the main barn, where cows are kept on a bedding pack thick with straw. Newborn calves are weighed and transferred to the new calf barn where they are tube fed colostrum for their first and second feeding. They are also given a First Defence bolus to increase their immunity and Inforce nasal vaccine as a safeguard against respiratory illness.
At two weeks of age, the calves’ milk volume is increased to six litres. “We have been feeding whole milk the past four years and that’s largely because there isn’t any milk replacer on the market that is formulated for Jersey specifications,” said Tyler Hendriks, owner/operator of the farm. His wife, Emily, and parents Henry and Patti Hendriks have shares in the farm and also help in this multi-generational operation.
Depending on birth date and weight, calves are weaned around 60 days and weighed again. Prior to weaning, Tyler takes a “step-down” approach by eliminating one milk feeding per day. These calves have already begun making the adjustment to a straw-mix calf starter and water. Recording weight data helps the business track how different feeding strategies and health supplements affect/improve growth rates.
During winter and spring, newborn calves wear “coats” to keep them warm. Tyler explains that Jerseys are the smallest of the dairy breeds and the calves are born ranging from 50-60 pounds, with most in the 60-pound range. They have very little fat and size to keep them warm and good calf management is key to help them thrive. In contrast, calves born from Jersey cows bred to Angus beef bulls (the Hendriks breed cattle in the bottom of the genetic pool to beef) weigh 90-120 pounds.
Calves will stay in this new, bright, spacious, calf barn for three months before moving to another barn on site. At seven months of age, they move again to a CoverAll pack barn across the road at his parents’ place. Henry takes over from there, implementing a heifer feeding and breeding strategy. The heifers return to the main dairy barn five months before calving.
Hendriks is not a believer of having all the animals under “one roof” because each stage of the cow’s life requires different ventilation requirements. However, he would prefer all the animals were on one site so he didn’t have to travel down the road with a tractor and Total Mixed Ration mixer for feeding or a skid steer to clean pens.
Hendriks is keeping many of the existing calf hutches he used to raise the Jersey/Angus cross calves. Others were sold to friends and neighbours.
As the primary calf care person on the farm, Hendriks is enjoying the new facility. Because it is a distance from the main barn, he uses a Side-by-Side to bring milk from the main barn to the calves. The calves are bedded with straw stored in the commodity shed beside the multi-purpose calf barn.
Clean, cool and fresh, the barn will definitely keep the snow off the calves and is less labour-intensive than the outdoor calf hutches. Hendriks says he loves analytics and achieving production goals so beginning with healthy calves is the first step towards meeting his dairy production goals. ◊