The Kellers’ hoop barn has helped keep their calves healthier by creating a more controlled environment. In addition to having individual stalls for calves still on milk (left), there is a pen for after the calves are they are weaned (right).PHOTO BY KRISTA M. SHEEHAN
The Kellers’ hoop barn has helped keep their calves healthier by creating a more controlled environment. In addition to having individual stalls for calves still on milk (left), there is a pen for after the calves are they are weaned (right).
PHOTO BY KRISTA M. SHEEHAN
LAKE CITY, Minn. - For the past four years, Fred Keller has enjoyed doing calf chores.
"It's nicer for the people feeding calves now than it was before," Keller said. "It's good for the calves, too."
The difference has been a new calf raising facility. Four years ago, the Kellers constructed a 40- by 128-foot hoop barn to house calves up through weaning. Fred and Peggy Keller along with their son, Brian, who joined the operation seven years ago, milk 120 cows on their farm near Lake City, Minn.
Before the new building, the Kellers had the youngest of their herd in 20 poly domes and calf tel huts.
"The domes worked well but there were too many days when the rain blew really hard, or it was misting or snowing. The huts were too cold in the winter, so I had to put them in a shed," Keller said.
A few times, there were also more calves than space available. Keller knew it was time for a change.
"I asked my vet what I should put up for a building so the people want to feed calves and the calves are healthy. Right away, he said a hoop barn," Keller said.
Keller took the advice and in 2008 constructed the 40- by 128-foot hoop barn. The material of the hoop allows for more sunlight to shine through.
"Even on cloudy days you cannot believe how light it is in here. The calves seem to feel better in the sunlight and it helps to heat the building," Keller said.
During the winter months, the barn stays about 15 degrees warmer than the outside temperature.
"It just makes such a difference when there's no wind chill," Keller said, remembering feeding calves outside before they built the hoop barn.
Keller also said the material of the roof is very sturdy.
"We've had some awful wind storms and it's never torn. It's really tough," Keller said.
For ventilation, the hoop barn has five-foot curtains on each side, which are opened during the warmer months, and forced air ventilation. Two 16-inch fans with variable speed motors are on each end of the building and connected to a tube above the calves inside. The 18-inch tube is eight feet off the ground and seven feet from the side of the building. The air travels through the tube and is distributed through holes.
"They (the air holes) aren't directly on the calves. It flows in and naturally follows the curve of the building, then tumbles and falls around the calves for good ventilation," Keller said.
The Kellers turn the fans on when the temperature reaches 20 degrees or warmer.
The open ridge at the top of the barn lets the moisture out.
"That's key for this building," Keller said.
Inside on the north wall, there are 31 J&D calf stalls, which are 48 inches wide and eight feet long. On the south side there are 16 Cozy Calf stalls, which are 46 inches wide and eight feet long. There is also a group pen for weaned calves that measures 12- by 60-feet and is divided into two pens.
"I really like the individual stalls," Keller said.
Between May and September, the stalls are bedded with sawdust over a layer of white barn lime on the hard packed lime-based floor. The rest of the year, straw is used instead of sawdust. Anytime the temperature is below 50 degrees, young calves wear calf jackets.
The divisions between each stall are removable to make cleaning easier; however, the Kellers mainly clean each pen individually after each calf leaves. The bedding is removed and the walls are washed down with soap and left to dry for a few days before a new calf is brought in.
"It helps keep the calves really clean," Keller said.
During the winter months when the temperature is below freezing, the Kellers are not able to scrub the stall walls. Instead they scrape any manure off the walls as much as they can.
"There's only so much we can do in the winter. We try to clean them the best we can," Keller said.
Calves are fed a little less than two quarts of pasteurized milk at each feeding, along with water and a 20 percent protein starter. When the calves are weaned, they are moved from the individual stalls to a group pen on the south side of the hoop barn. It holds about 32 calves.
"It's nice that they are able to stay in the same building after the weaning time. We're not changing the atmosphere or environment to help them transition better," Keller said.
After about four weeks, the animals are moved out of the hoop barn to another group housing area.
Because of the amount of space in the hoop barn, the Kellers buy bull calves to raise as steers until they can be sent to market at about 1,400 pounds.
"They're always stepping ahead, gaining weight and staying healthy," Keller said about their calves they raise in the hoop barn. "By far they are gaining more than they were before. It's unbelievable how well they grow."
In addition to a better growth rate, the calves are healthier, Keller said.
"I used to have problems with calves that got pneumonia and calves that were coughing in the huts because of the weather. There wasn't enough ventilation," Keller said. "Now the calves are doing great."
Not only do the calves enjoy the facility, the people do, too. The Kellers are in hoop barn heaven.