Using data to monitor temperature and humidity in calf housing can help prevent disease.
Nantwich Farm Vets is the first practice in the UK to be involved in the new Calfmatters monitoring initiative, which involves wireless data loggers being fitted to calf housing.
The monitors are fitted, one to each calf pen, and also on the outside of the shed, to measure temperature and humidity. This data is then logged onto a cloud-based system which can be viewed by both the farmer and veterinary practice.
Veterinary surgeon Sarah Williamson is taking the lead on the project, working alongside the farm’s regular vet Laura Donovan.
Ms Williamson says: “The technology has been adapted from the pig and poultry sector. Initially, we will be trialling it on one of our client’s farms in Cheshire, but it will then be rolled out further within the practice and in other practices throughout the country.
“The farm we are working on is autumn-calving, so all calves in the shed are of a similar age and no more will be added. There are 12 pens of 15 calves and each pen has a monitor, at calf level, in a calf-proof box. The plan is to monitor them through winter.
“This is a relatively new shed which will be housing calves only for the second winter and the farm is not experiencing any major calf health problems.
“The aim of the project is to raise awareness of the effect of thermal stress on calves and highlight why there may be issues with pneumonia.
“It is important to create the best environment possible to increase calves’ resistance to disease. It is better to be proactive regarding prevention, and building calf resilience with vaccination, rather than waiting for a problem then having to treat it.
“Monitoring temperature and highlighting just how it can fluctuate and how it can vary in different parts of the building will allow the farmer to take preventative measures to mitigate disease.
“If the temperature falls below critical levels the calf will start to use the energy it should be using for growth and to run its immune system, just to keep warm.”
The air speed also has an impact on temperature. A wind speed of two metres/second, which is not fast, can lower the temperature by up to 10 per cent.
Ms Williamson says: “If farmers are aware of temperature falling below critical levels, they can take steps to meet the calf’s additional energy requirement, such as increasing the volume of milk replacer fed, using calf jackets and providing extra bedding.”
Already the project has thrown up some interesting data. In mid-September the temperature varied from 10degC at night to 28degC during the day. Unsurprisingly, the side of the shed which catches the morning sun is significantly warmer than the other side, which may affect how different pens of calves are managed.
Lowering the galebreaker on the outside of the shed to calf level has also reduced wind speed.
Ms Williamson says: “As we build up data over time and follow batches of calves through the system, it should enable us to see if there is any correlation between calves which have needed treatments and the temperature in the building.”