Cold temperatures and newborn calves can be a recipe for disaster, but there are several calf-housing strategies that can give winter calves a fighting chance. W. Mark Hilton, DVM, Dipl. ABVP, Purdue University, says wet, windy and cold days is the weather we want to avoid for young calves, so during those times is when beef producers should consider some sort of calf housing.

“With the housing, they don’t have a wet, cold coat when we get a rain or wet snow, so they are not using calories to keep warm,” Hilton says. “The reduced stress also equals better health. On a cold, sunny day, however, the calves will lay outside. It’s pretty amazing how smart they are at just a few days of age.”

There are a variety of types of calf-housing that are available from commercial huts to home-made versions. The most important aspect of the housing that it is inaccessible to cows because cows create a muddy mess that can be full of diarrhea-causing pathogens. Likewise, the calf housing should only hold a maximum of 10-12 calves, Hilton says. “I worry about disease build-up if we cram too many calves in one area.”

Hilton has seen everything from old hog “A huts” to ones built out of rejected desk tops to commercial calf huts. Anything that protects the top and three sides works fine.

No matter which housing type is used, some sort of bedding should be used. “We’ve used straw or cornstalks for bedding,” Hilton says. “The calves defecate and urinate so little that producers just keep adding more bedding if it gets even the slightest bit dirty. It gets cleaned out at the end of the calving season.”

Hilton says many times the huts only get used for a few weeks because the goal is to calve in a time of the year that the calves can be born outside. “I remember an early April snowstorm when I was in Iowa and the producers that started calving right around that time said they saved enough calves to pay for the huts many times over.”

To give calves some extra room around the shelter, Hilton says you can put an electric wire around where the calf huts are located, which gives the calves a place to lie down outside with no cows “messing up” the area. “The hot wire is high enough that the calves can just walk under it,” he explains. “One of my clients in Iowa would bed this area lightly with stalks or straw and he called it the ‘calf club’.” To find out more about the super hutch by Calf-Tel featured in the photo, visit

Read more about helping weak calves survive and thrive in Bovine Veterinarian.