We started using calf coats last year as we were using large hutches to house some calves. We put the coats on at birth and left them on till almost weaned. As we’ve built a large calf shed this year, nice and airy but not overly warm on cold nights, we decided to use the calf coats again but remove after 3 or 4 weeks, wash and put on the next batch of newborns. We had about 40 coats from last year’s calves.
Although the coats are supposed to improve thrive (and this study by the Farmers Weekly certainly suggests it does), I was more concerned about them not getting chills, helping them to regulate their temperatures and making them cosy. I notice a farmer on Twitter saying today that he was feeding his spring born calves less milk than last year’s autumn calves because of the calf coats (from 8 litres a day to 7 litres, I feed them about 6.5 litres of milk daily in two feeds and haven’t altered it).
We were due to remove coats from some calves before Storm Emma and the Beast from the East struck and it seemed daft to remove them just as the temperature was going to drop so severely so we bought another 20 coats for the newborns born that week. I was glad we did as it really got cold. Only one calf developed a chill so I was pleased with that and he recovered within hours.
I bought a variety of coats last year as I wanted to compare and see which I preferred, so here’s my rating giving my favourite first:
Mayo Healthcare Calf Coats
I really like the Mayo Healthcare coats and bought more of them this year. Last year’s were purchased from Connaught Agri but they aren’t that easy to order from so I got more from the FRS Farm Store in Kilkenny. They are €30 each. They’re soft and duvet-like. They have two wide straps to go under the belly and one at the front. The leg straps are the same as in other coats. I like the way the coat is shaped to bring the coat up around the chest too. I feel like I’m putting them into a good winter’s coat when I put a Mayo Healthcare coat on, tucking them in and ensuring they are warm.
The only difficulty is it can be hard to tighten the chest strap enough on the very small calves and occasionally their front leg goes through the neck strap but I’ve only had that happen with a few calves and during the first couple of days of wearing them. I had assumed they were a ‘one size’ but noticed the last lot we purchased were ‘large’ so I presume they come in different sizes.
2. Cosy Calf High Viz Jackets
We only got two of these last year. They are €34 each but I notice they are £22 on a UK website. They are similar to the Mayo Healthcare in style with the two wide straps under the belly and a generous chest covering but the fabric isn’t as soft. If describing them in human coat terms, I’d be saying they are like a good Sunday church type winter’s coat, warm and formal but not as cosy and soft. I’m not sure why the high-viz element is required but I guess some farmers will have calves outdoors. We just got two of these last year but I see that they come in different sizes. They are a fine coat, just not as cosy as the Mayo Healthcare ones.
3. Red Cosy Calf Coats
These are also Cosy Calf coats and I think we bought them from an agri company in Tipperary last year. From memory, they were €22 each (and the ones above were €10 dearer). I like these, not overly heavy but they look comfortable to wear. They aren’t as generous as the two above so if leaving them on till weaning, you’ll find they only cover the top and half the sides of the calf by the time you’re taking them off. The straps can be pulled tight so are also suitable for very small calves.
4. Grey ‘Kalberdecke” Coats
These are my least favourite. I bought some just before the storm. I bought the 80cm ones as had measured the length of the red ones which were 75 cm. The only thing is the red coat is shaped to come further forwards under the chest area whereas the grey coat is more of a “square shape” and doesn’t come forward on the chest, hence, I’m trying to just use them on the larger calves. On smaller calves, they look like they are wearing a badly shaped skirt. We’ve had a couple of Hereford bulls which fit into them perfectly.
I bought them from Glanbia Connect when they were on offer for €21.60 and they’re fine for that price. The normal price is €27 but I’d suggest you spend the extra €3 and get the Mayo Healthcare ones. I feel like I’m putting a bit of sackcloth on the calf with the grey ones whereas with the Mayo Healthcare, I feel like I’m really mothering them and making them cosy.
It can be handy to have a variety of styles of calf jackets, partly because they are sized differently and some are better for small calves, some for large calves. I also find it helps me to remember who a calf is, for example, if putting two newborn bull or heifer calves into a pen that look very similar, I used to tag one of them in one ear (until we got around to tagging them within the next couple of days) but now I just remember that Thelma’s calf or number 2285’s calf is the one in the coat with the luminous stripes or the red coat. It’s actually strange when the coats are removed as I have to get to know them all over again when I can see their whole body markings.
Just in case anyone thinks this is a sponsored post, it isn’t. All calf coats were purchased. Just to mention too I also prefer the grey bucket teat feeder for training calves to feed for the simple reasons that if they come off the teat, they find it again reasonably easily. The ledge on the JVC feeder is a pain as it’s occasionally happened that when I’m guiding a calf to the teat, its head goes up and catches my hand against the ledge which is pretty painful. I tend to train them in threes and fours and once competent on the feeder, they go into a bigger batch of 8-10 calves until weaned.
Have you tried calf coats and what did you think?