What is a calf hutch?


I’ve talked about how we care for calves in many posts, but I realized I haven’t given the quick and skinny on why farmers use calf hutches. It’s time I do that.

Calf hutch
Calves in calf hutches as a thunderstorm rolls in.

Across the US on farms both large and small, the vast majority of dairy calves live in a calf hutch for the first weeks of life. A calf hutch is an individual pen with a shelter and an outdoor area. It’s a common misconception that calf hutches are the same as veal crates, that’s not the case and you can read a little more about that HERE.

Why do farmers use calf hutches?

Housing calves in hutches allows calves with immature immune systems to receive individualized care during the most crucial part of their lives. With a calf living in an individual hutch we can see exactly how much milk and other feed they consume and we can see the consistency of their manure, both are an important indicator of health. A calf hutch is a comfortable place for calves to sleep and provides shelter from the elements.

How big is a calf hutch?

calf in calf hutch
Calf hutches are larger than you might think.

I have seen a lot of people concerned about the small size of calf hutches. It often looks like they are tiny and don’t leave room for calves to move around in photographs. However that’s not the case, hutches are designed to allow calves room to move around and have space but also keep calves protected from the elements. There are many brands and types of hutches but they are generally all close to the same size. The hutch part itself is about 6.5’x4′ and the outdoor area is about the same, doubling the total space.

Calf hut
I can comfortably fit into a hutch with a new calf.

Why do calves live in hutches?

On a cold day in Wisconsin, you won’t find a much cozier place on a farm than a calf hutch. We use a base layer of sand and then lots of straw to keep our calves warm and dry. The hutch is the perfect size to trap body heat and keep calves warm. On the coldest and snowiest days we put doors over the hutch openings to help our calves stay even warmer.

In the summer, the hutches have windows that we can open to get a breeze. The hutch also provides shade for the calves to lay in. Hutches are generally lighter colors that reflect sun. One of the biggest challenges with using calf hutches is that on hot days, they can get too warm. One of the things we do on our farm to help mitigate that is to prop up the back of the calf hutch so it is off the ground and allows more air to move through the hutch. We make sure we feed extra electrolytes and keep water available at all times. Really warm days can be hard on calves, including calves who live out on pasture.

Calf hutch windows
A photo from the back side of a hutch showing the big windows.

Calves are the future of our farms and it is incredibly important that we take care of them as perfectly as possible. If you would like to read more about calves, this LINK shows how we feed calves in a video. You can click HERE to learn more about twin calves. This LINK explains how we care for newborn calves. We only raise our female calves who will become part of the milking herd one day, if you’re curious about what happens with our male calves, you can read more HERE.

calf hutch on farm

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