Calving in cow barns: A critical time for both animal and human begins as calving approaches. The main focus of the periparturient period should be on the health and well‐being of the cow and the newborn calf. Many factors play a crucial role – not least, where to house the cow during calving. Calving pens have proven their worth in the past. They can help ensure a smooth and safe birth. However, to exploit their full potential, it is necessary for the pens to meet certain prerequisites. Let us take a look at the design of a good calving pen and ask and answer the question of why cows prefer individual pens for calving.

Natural isolation and better hygiene: The many advantages of an individual calving pen

For more safety and to avoid unnecessary stress, cows typically separate themselves from the herd before calving. They often only return to their permanent social group several days after giving birth. For dairy cattle housed in barns, an appropriate opportunity must be created to accommodate for this natural instinct. An individual calving pen – situated in a secluded area of the cow barn – can be the ideal environment for a cow to isolate naturally and safely.

At the same time, calving pens offer the distinct advantage of constant and precise control. And it is not just about being able to monitor the cow. Hygiene measures can be incorporated faster and more efficiently in an individual pen than in larger group stalls. Remember: Minimizing stress for the cow hinges on the subtle and swift execution of interventions within the calving pen. This also applies in particular to cattle obstetrics, which is much easier to manage in a calving pen.

Size and location: Key prerequisites for a calving pen

As previously mentioned, calving pens can vary in their design and functionality. Two primary factors have emerged regarding the animals’ acceptance of the pens: The size and location of the pen.

Once again, a cow’s natural behavior plays a pivotal role here. Particularly important: The cow may want to separate from the herd before giving birth, but it is crucial to maintain optional contact – otherwise there is a risk of re‐barning stress! In terms of the exact location of the calving pen, this means: A secluded area in the barn, not far from the dry stall area and with visual contact to the herd, is optimal.

However, for the cow to feel comfortable, the pen must not only be appropriately situated but also spacious enough to accommodate it comfortably. The overall size of the calving pen must be a compromise between meeting the needs of the cow and considering both economic and ergonomic aspects.

Our general recommendations are:

  • 10 square meters per cow in a group stall
  • At least 4 by 4 meters in an individual pen

More comfort for both animal and human: Design tips for the calving pen

In addition to the size and location, there are many other factors that maximize the benefits of a calving pen for both the cow and the human. We look at both sides of the equation and give tips on how best to design a calving pen.

Benefits for the cow:

  • Large drinking trough: A clean, fully functional drinking trough is an essential feel‐good factor for cows. The drinking trough should be easy to reach at all times.
  • Easy access to feed: The periparturient period is a stressful time for cows. Easy access and an aesthetically designed feeding place – for example featuring a highly adjustable feed fence – can offer some much‐need relief.
  • Sufficient light: In nature, calving cows spend the whole day outside on the pasture. Sufficient light can, therefore, contribute to well‐being in the barn.
  • Good cleanliness and dry bedding: Stringent hygiene measures are a critical factor in ensuring a smooth process both before and during calving.
  • Sure‐footed, soft floor: Pregnancy puts cows under huge physical strain. An ergonomic floor provides additional safety and is gentle on both hooves and joints. An effective post‐calving measure includes providing a floor with a good grip, as the cow’s ligaments are stretched, posing a heightened risk of its hind legs slipping and being overstretched.

Benefits for the farmer

  • Water and electricity connection: Close proximity to a source of water and electricity near the calving pen enhances hygiene practices and facilitates cattle obstetrics procedures.
  • Opportunity to fix the cow: Fixing can significantly facilitate the birthing process, particularly among stressed and nervous cows. In this case, fixing the cow to the feed fence is beneficial to ensure a calmer environment for assisting with the birthing process.
  • Good accessibility (with vehicles): The calving pen should be easily accessible at all times to be able to respond promptly in case of emergencies. For example, if a cow suffers from a calcium deficiency or ligament damage after birth, swift action is needed.
  • Easy cleaning and disinfecting: There should be convenient provisions for disinfecting not only the calving pen but also any tools and clothing used.
  • Rubber mats make tasks easier: Removing manure and disinfecting after calving are particularly easy thanks to rubber mats such as KRAIBURG SIESTA or VITA. Seeing as only a small amount of bedding is required, mold does not develop on the floor and the mats can be cleaned simply with water, thus eliminating the manual removal of manure.

Summary: a well-designed calving pen facilitates the birth process for animal and human

At the beginning, we asked the question why cows prefer individual calving pens. Now we know the answer: They naturally seek a secluded spot to muster the strength and energy required for giving birth. A quiet location in the barn, an adequately sized pen and a hygienic, safe floor are crucial. Rubber mats such as KRAIBURG SIESTA or VITA have become the ideal solution for an efficient yet hygienic alternative to a traditional straw‐based manure mattress.

But a calving pen is not only a welcoming and ideal environment for cows to give birth. When kitted out with the appropriate equipment, a pen also supports the important work of veterinary professionals until the newborn calf arrives safely.

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