Calves resting in a traditional livestock building

Ventilation has always been an important aspect of calf welfare and, given the recent announcement by DEFRA of their aim to introduce mandatory design standards for new livestock housing by 2022, the importance of ensuring that your buildings are well-ventilated will become even more important.

Inadequate ventilation in your livestock buildings can impact on the quality of air surrounding your calves, resulting in respiratory disease and an increase in airborne ammonia concentrations. On the other hand, excessive airspeeds at animal height can cause wind chill, particularly in a young animal, reducing the insulation properties of its hair and thereby increasing its rate of heat loss.

Ventilation in livestock buildings can be accomplished either by natural or mechanical means and, whilst some experts believe natural ventilation to be an efficient and inexpensive system for providing an ideal environment in your calf housing, AHDB Beef & Lamb argues that calf housing can usually benefit from some form of mechanical ventilation due to the inability of young calves to generate enough heat to drive the stack effect.

Air changes are another important aspect to consider when choosing a livestock building. In a 1979 study by DW Bates & JF Anderson, a reduction in air changes from 1 to 4 per hour was shown to increase the need for medical treatments by up to 60 percent. As such, it is now common knowledge that air changes are fundamental to maintaining calf welfare and help to remove moisture and preserve animal health.

For farmers using polyhouses to house their livestock, a polytunnel roof fan or exhaust fan can help to both reduce the incidence of pneumonia and remove unwanted heat and humidity. Polytunnel fans can extract up to 4,600m3 of air every hour and will give you around 10 complete air changes per hour on a still day.

According to the Better Cattle Housing Design guide by AHDB Beef & Lamb, the ‘target for most cattle buildings is to ensure a design that maximises ventilation potential on a still day, without exposing the livestock to elevated airspeed when the wind is blowing’. Maintaining a balance between airspeed, moisture and fresh air in your buildings is paramount to your businesses success. 

Improving your existing building or ensuring that your new build is designed to the highest of standards has a lasting and positive impact on animal welfare and can benefit your business by reducing disease costs and improving the efficiency of inputs (such as bedding and feed), thereby making your business more sustainable and increasing your competitiveness in the market.