Participants in an Iowa State University Extension technology look around a calf barn April 14 at Putz Dairy near New Vienna, Iowa. The barn features positive pressure tube ventilation and the use of a Milk Taxi to feed calves from the family’s two milking herds.
PHOTO BY SHERRY NEWELL
Participants in an Iowa State University Extension technology look around a calf barn April 14 at Putz Dairy near New Vienna, Iowa. The barn features positive pressure tube ventilation and the use of a Milk Taxi to feed calves from the family’s two milking herds. PHOTO BY SHERRY NEWELL

NEW VIENNA, Iowa – Brad Putz claims the calf barn he manages is nothing fancy, but it is clear the structure and its features are appreciated by the crew that does the newborn-to-weaning calf work. Putz, his mother, Janet, and his cousin, Nick Bagge, are the primary caretakers in the structure put up in 2018 at the farm near New Vienna.



The ventilation system and use of a Milk Taxi were highlighted during an Iowa State University Extension dairy technology tour April 14. Participants also saw the robotic feeding and milking system at Honey Creek Dairy near Strawberry Point.
Before building the calf facility, the Putz family used hutches and calf condos to house calves. The youngstock from birth to first freshening are from two herds – a 148-cow herd owned by Janet and her husband, Ed, and a 118-cow Jersey herd owned by Putz and his brother, Jeremy. Janet and Ed milk with two robots, while Putz and Jeremy use the older step-up parlor.
“That was a lot of calves to feed outside, and the help didn’t like it much,” Putz said. “Now, no matter what we’re doing with the calves, it’s all in here.”
The technology in the calf barn includes not only the Milk Taxi but a positive pressure tube ventilation system designed specifically for the building and the calves.
“The tubes are specific for each calf barn,” said Brian Dougherty, an Extension field specialist in agricultural engineering, who explained the system and demonstrated the air flow by fogging the building during the tour.
“For example, there are four rows of holes in the bottom of the tubes, and the diameter of the holes determines the air speed coming out of the hole. Fan size also determines the total airflow.”
Dougherty said the barn provides four air exchanges per hour, and the flow provides fresh air where the calves are – about 4 feet from the floor – without creating a draft on the calves. A split curtain sidewall and space between the sidewalls and pens helps to circulate the air as well.
The curtains stay closed at temperatures below 30 degrees. In the winter, calves in stalls are not provided water because of freezing temperatures inside. On hot days, circulation fans could be added, Dougherty said.
While ventilation helps keep calves healthy, the Milk Taxi makes calf management less labor intensive. The taxi mixes and then dispenses the milk replacer according to amounts Putz posts on each calf stall.
Newborn calves are transported to the barn in a calf cart, tagged and given colostrum for their first two feedings. After that, calves receive milk replacer by bottle then later by bucket twice each day.
The Milk Taxi holds roughly 70 gallons, prepared in an enclosed supply room in a corner of the building. The taxi holds enough to make one trip through the center aisle for the twice-daily feeding, even though there are 100 free-standing plastic stalls.
“We built it big enough so we would not be full all the time,” Putz said.
The convenience of one building appeals to the family.
“No matter what we do, it’s all in here,” Putz said.
The barn was constructed with a tile under each line of stalls. Sand is the bottom bedding with straw provided twice a week.
At weaning, calves are moved out of stalls 10 at a time, then stalls are power washed and the sand is replaced. Those ready for weaning, at around 60 days, are moved to one of two group pens at the end of the barn.
“If I had to change one thing, I’d do more group pens,” Putz said.
While the family considered automatic calf feeders, Putz said this was a better fit.
“I never was a big fan of (automatic feeders),” he said. “My brother wanted it, but he never feeds calves.”
Within one year, the family accomplished their goal of zero death loss in their calves; however, this was followed by a challenging outbreak of possible cryptosporidium or clostridium which was quickly brought under control with the help of their vaccination program.      
Currently, their calves are a result of sexed semen used on heifers and a portion of the cows in their first lactation. They breed the rest of the herd to Angus bulls. With no plans to grow their dairy, their replacements are also kept in check by offering cows as recipients for an associate’s embryos.