Do calves prefer to be inside or outside in the summer?

A recent study examined whether calves in the first 11 weeks of life have a preference for access to the outdoors in summer conditions. Much is already known about adult cows. These have a clear preference to be outside in summer conditions, but not much is known about the preferences of calves in this area.

Research design

Ten pairs of calves were housed in 10 group pens (7.32 x 2.44 m deep). At these calf pens, half of the calf pen was covered and half was outdoors, as shown in the image below.

Afbeelding onderzoek

The calves had ad libitum access to food and water. In the first stage of the calf’s life, from day 5 to 29, the calves received 12 liters of milk per day divided into 2 feedings. This was gradually reduced by 1L per day from day 30 to 35. The calves then received 6L per day from day 35 to 51. The milk was then reduced again by 1L per day, after which the calves were fully weaned by day 56. All calves remained in the experiment for an average of 72 days.

The calf pens were filmed and monitored continuously. The behavior of the calves was assessed 3 days per week based on samples of the recordings. In doing so, 4 researchers assessed whether the calves were inside or outside, whether the calves were lying down or standing, and whether they were in sun or shade.


The results showed that the calves spent about 1/3 of their time in the experiment in the outdoor area. The amount of time a calf spent outside depended on several factors. If it was raining the time spent outside decreased. In the first 6 weeks of the experiment, the amount of time spent outside increased, but then decreased between weeks 6 and 7. From week 7 to 11, time spent outside remained stable at 200 minutes per day. Calves with the strongest average growth and a coat color that was about 50% white spent the most time outside. Until week 8, calves spent about the same amount of time in the sun as in the shade. However, after weaning the calves spent more time in the shade. When calves were outside they stood more than when they were inside during the first 4 weeks. All in all, calves spent about 30% of their time outside, if there was the opportunity to do so.

These results indicate that calves use an outdoor area during summer conditions , if available, but that it depends on several factors such as weather, age, average growth and coat color.

Interested in reading the complete study? Click here 

Whalin, L., Weary, D. M., & von Keyserlingk, M. A. (2021). Preweaning dairy calves’ preferences for outdoor access. Journal of Dairy Science.

Topcalf calf housing with outlet

Topcalf offers different calf housing systems, which can be optionally equipped with a free range. Are you interested in housing your calves in an outside pen? Then get in touch with us! At the moment, only the group hutch and the Duo hutch with roof can be equipped with a free, but we have also equipped other calf hutches with free ranges in the past.

Group hutch with free range

Groepshok met uitloop

duo hutch with free range

Duo met uitloop
Share this page