Calf Hutch or Prison Cell?


Welcome back to the blog!

It’s been a bit since I’ve last made a blog post.


But I’ve been getting lots of questions about my calf hutches (pictures on instagram – @wiscowsingal) and since many people say calf hutches are “glorified dog houses” or “prison cells”. I thought I’d talk more in depth about them. Below are a few questions I’ve received on this topic and I have also made up a few questions because some people think they have ALL the facts BEFORE they even ask questions. So…


What is a calf hutch?
Form of housing for heifer (girl) and bull (boy) calves.

Are all calves kept in calf hutches raised for veal?
both heifer (girl) and bull (boy) calves are housed in these hutches.

To read more about how veal calves are raised, check out this WEBSITE, or you can ask Heidi, a dairy farmer who raises her bull calves for veal on INSTAGRAM / FACEBOOK. Or you can follow and ask veterinarian, Dr. Hake on FACEBOOK.

IMG_0227.JPGWhy is a heifer calf kept in a calf hutch?
A calf hutch is not only beneficial for the calf itself, but for the care takers as well.

Benefits of a calf hutch include…
1. Individualized care for each calf. Whether it be feeding, bedding, treating, or vaccinating, hutches make it easier for the care takers to make sure each calf is getting exactly what they need.
2. Keeps calves from spreading or contracting a disease that could make them sick. Just like a newborn baby, calves don’t have an immune system built up yet. The hutches are washed, disinfected and sanitized after the older, weaned calves are moved out and before the new calf is put in.
IMG_2118.JPG3. Easy to keep the calves bedded properly. In the warm summer months, we have a sand bedding (sometimes add pine shavings) and in the fall, winter, and spring we bed them with wheat straw.
4. Protects them from the elements. When its hot and humid, we’re able to open the windows and put blocks underneath/prop up the hutch to keep it ventilated while giving the calf shade. When its raining, snowing or really windy, the hutches keep the calf safe, dry and comfortable.
IMG_5702.JPG5. Heifer calves are future dairy cows. Hutches are tools that help get calves off on the right foot. A clean, comfortable, and safe environment helps us keep our calves healthy, happy and thriving… AND in 2 years, we’ll have happy, healthy and thriving cows when they calve in for the first time!

Hutches just act like cribs. They aren’t prison cells.


Why is a bull calf kept in a calf hutch?
Same reasoning as the heifer calves. (Read above explanation.) Bull calves on the other hand are raised for beef. Check out my blog post, A Cow Calves, Now What? Part 3 for what happens to bull calves when they’re born on a dairy.


How long does a calf typically stay in a hutch?
Typically around 2 months. Depending on the farm and the demand for space, some keep them in a few weeks shorter and some keep them in there a few weeks longer than 2 months.

What does a calf do in a hutch?
Eat, sleep, poop, and GROW!

Are there different forms of calf hutches?
YES! See pictures below…

Polydomes: An enclosed circular dome with ventilation on the top or a circular dome with a door and calf is attached to hutch with a collar and chain.

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Calf hutch with wire panel: Calves are free range in their hutches. They have the ability to go outside and inside. Feed is either inside their hutch or on/near the fronts of the wire panels. Doors can be put on these hutches to keep warmth in and snow out in the winter. (First and last pictures taken at Dairy Carrie’s farm.)

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Calf hutches with chains: Calves are attached to their hutches with a collar and a chain. They have the same room to move as calves with wire panels do and can also roam from side to side of their hutch as well. Calves either have their feed inside their hutches or outside on the side of the hutch. Doors can be put on these hutches to keep warmth in and snow out in the winter. (I personally have found to have friendlier calves in these hutches. It’s easier to interact with them!)
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Individual pens: Same concept as a hutch, but this design is short and sweet. Looks like a box. It has 2 long walls which divide the pens, the back wall has either windows or a wire panel for ventilation, and the front is a door and also is where the calves eat. The design needs more attention when it comes to bedding and ventilation. Typically seen inside calf barns with fans or positive pressure ventilation tubes. We on the other hand have our pens outside with roofs we built and designed.

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(I did not include pictures or descriptions of automatic calf feeders as those calves are housed in a group setting.)

I hope you learned something new today as far as individualized calf housing goes.

All of these pictures were taken by me as I have worked with all of these style calf hutches before.

Even though calves are separated from the cows and housed in these type of environments, they’re still happy. They still enjoy life. They don’t know living any other way, so they actually don’t know what else is out there. These hutches definitely are not comparable to life behind bars. Calves get to enjoy life. They get the care and attention they need and deserve.

Thanks for reading!

The Crazy Calf Lady, Jenna