In Denmark, by law, calves and heifers must stay together for at least 12 hours after calving in conventional herds, after which the calves can be moved to individual pens.
In organic dairy herds, it’s required for them to stay together for a minimum of 24 hours after calving.
During a recent tour by the Irish Farm Building Association in Denmark, we visited two dairy farms of contrasting scales to see their calf-rearing setups.
Our first visit was to Anne-Kathrine Leibrandt’s farm in Egtved. Anne-Kathrine and her husband manage 150ac and milk 150 cows.
We visited their new calf-rearing facilities, still under construction, which were designed to accommodate calves for the year, with the capacity to expand to 250 cows.
The farm was using transportable pens that can be moved with a tractor and loader.
These standalone units are fully equipped with wiring and plumbing, and only need to be connected to electricity and water.
Anne-Kathrine was also in the process of constructing other permanent pens during our visit.
Initially, the calves are housed in individual pens for eight days, after which two calves are housed together.
At three weeks old, they are moved to group pens. The mobile units are bedded with straw, and any seepage from the pens is collected. The fixed calf sheds are also bedded with straw and are sealed.
The pens are designed with a slope toward the back to ensure moisture is kept at the rear of the pen. Sucking teats and brushes are provided as enrichment features, which Anne-Kathrine mentioned are a legal requirement.
Bull calves are sent to another beef farm after reaching a weight of 45kg.
Anne-Kathrine is paid per kilogram for the calves and mentioned that they tried grazing before, but it wasn’t worth the effort for the minimal extra income it generated.
Our next visit took us to the farm of dairy farmer Christian Kock, located near Christiansfeld in the southern part of the country.
Christian runs a dairy operation with 540 organic dairy cows and an extensive organic tillage enterprise spread across 2,470ac, primarily for growing feed for the cows.
Similar to Anne-Kathrine, Christian moves the calves into a single pen after 24 hours. After seven to eight days, the calves are paired.
In 2020, he constructed a new calf-rearing shed with 14 bays.
The shed features 20 individual calf pens and 27 larger pens capable of accommodating groups of calves. The shed cost approximately €320,000 to build.
Christian uses a 20-unit, double-up parlour for milking, which typically takes around four hours per milking.
He said that labour is challenging to find in Denmark, leading to a reliance on international workers on the dairy farm.
Christian explained that the most affordable labour he can source for the farm costs €20 per hour.
At the time of our visit, Christian was receiving 0.45c/litre for his milk. He produces a significant portion of the organic feed himself, including crops like wheat, winter hybrid rye, clover grass silage, barley, and a mixture of grass, barley and peas.
He does not grow maize, as he finds it hard to grow the crop without experiencing weed issues within an organic system.
Salmonella poses a significant challenge on many farms in Denmark, limiting the market for bull calves. Christian’s farm has been affected by salmonella since 2018.