Outdoor calf housing

Calf house: indoor or outdoor?

Do you need to shelter your calves indoor or outdoor? This discussion has been going on since years already and the opinions are still divided. Some say that housing indoor is more convenient whereas others say that confining their calves in the open air is much healthier. When the decision regarding a calf rearing system is made, the welfare of the calf should be the number one determinant. Though, one should of course not forget the labour aspect. That’s why we have done a literature study to research the differences between housing calves indoor or outdoor.

Is outdoor calf housing a healthier solution?

The well-being of your calves is key to any decision you make regarding the rearing process. In order to be able to offer a calf a healthy environment many factors play a role. For instance, think of nutrition, climate and housing systems. Besides, the fact that poor management leads to illness and calf mortality, it also has a huge economical impact on the dairy farmer. The research regarding the influence of housing on illnesses is unconvincing.  One study favors outdoor housing while others say that there is actually no differences. The one thing that does become clear is that outdoor housing does not have a negative influence on the calf’s health.

The most important determinants of a healthy environment are ventilation, humidity and ammonia pressure. Obviously in the open air this is easier to reconstruct than in indoor housing systems. Though, outdoor weather is often unpredictable and therefore climate management is important. For instance, in summer times heat stress is a serious factor to consider as this has a major impact on the well-being of your young cattle.  In general calves are pretty capable of handling temperatures, the only this that calves experience stress when it is combined with humid conditions. Taking climate and hygiene into account research says that, provided a proper management, it does not make a difference in terms of health whether a calf is held indoor or outdoor.

Calves in barn

is there a difference in growth?

Multiple researches have shown the impact of preweaning growth on the first lactation of a dairy cow.  Key influencer in growth is the amount of liquid food that a calf consumes in the first weeks of its life. Moreover diseases causes growth to stagnate. We have studies multiple researches and they cannot give a unanimous judgement with regard to the impact on growth. Too many conditions can be identified along the housing which makes it difficult to say that indoor or outdoor housing is better in terms of growth. However research does point towards a positive effect of group housing systems compared to individual housing.

Calf Pen
Indoor housing in our calf pens
Calves in Calf Pen
Our mobile calf hutches can be placed indoor and outdoor
Ventilation calf hutch
Ventilation has a major impact on your top calf

labour efficient

Of course labour efficiency is another factor to include in the decision. Especially climate management requires a lot of intensive labour. When you shelter calves indoor you have to invest in a proper ventilation and climate system. However, on the other hand, in the open air it is harder to manage mother nature. Besides, nobody likes to wander through the rain to feed your animals.


Research did not show any significant differences between indoor or outdoor calf housing. Although it appears that outdoor housing is related to less illnesses. It really seems that the way housing is managed determines whether a calf grows well or not, regardless of the housing system.



topcalf advice


If possible Topcalf advice is to house calves in the open air. This way calves have more access to fresh air and are less vulnerable to respiratory problems. Of course, in some cases, the dairy farmer is restricted in its options and does not have the choice. In this case, the Topcalf mobile calf hutches could provide a solution. Thanks to its caster wheels it is really easy to move them inside whenever needed. We cannot stress enough the fact that the management determines success. Make sure enough attention is given to the climate and hygiene control. If you have any questions regarding the possibilities? Feel free to contact us.

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