Youngstock housing – Legislation and market requirements

The legal definition of a calf is a bovine animal up to six months old.
When updating, designing or building your youngstock housing, there are mandatory legal requirements to adhere to, as well as optional codes of practice and market guidelines to support you. The most common of these are compiled here. Remember though, the quality of the environment is the most important determinant of success with calf housing. While it is essential that the regulations are complied with, the detail of the design and management included on these web pages should guarantee success.

Background legislation

The legal requirements and regulations of dairy youngstock housing are designed to assist the construction, design and management of compliant, optimal calf housing. However, these regulations should be considered a minimum standard, and there are valuable reasons to seek to exceed these standards.

The Animal Welfare Act 2006 places a responsibility on all owners of animals to ensure that the welfare needs of animals in their care are met. These welfare needs are encompassed within the Farm Animal Welfare Committee’s Five Freedoms:

  • Freedom from hunger and thirst
  • Freedom from discomfort
  • Freedom from pain, injury or disease
  • Freedom to express normal behaviour
  • Freedom from fear and distress

The Welfare of Farmed Animals (England) Regulations 2007 (S.I. no 2078) is the Statutory Instrument that provides details of the standards under which farm animals must be kept. These regulations must be complied with when considering the design and management of calf housing.

The Code of Recommendations for the Welfare of Livestock: Cattle (2003) provides a practical interpretation of The Welfare of Farmed Animals Regulations. You should keep a printed copy of this code and ensure it is easily accessible to any person responsible for looking after your calves. The legislation requires that any person attending an animal must be acquainted with any relevant code of practice, have access to the code while attending the animal and have received instruction and guidance on the code.

Farm and milk buyers’ assurance schemes, as well as the RSPCA’s welfare standards, reinforce the legislation and codes, in addition to providing enhanced standards. Some of their enhanced standards are included within this booklet to help you consider potential areas for future proofing your design.

Schedule 1 of The Welfare of Farmed Animals (England) Regulations 2007 has several specific requirements relating to buildings and accommodation, which are relevant when considering accommodation for cattle of all ages. These requirements are broad statements, and the Code of Recommendations for the Welfare of Livestock: Cattle provides more detailed information to ensure compliance. While these webpages primarily focus on calf housing, for completeness, we have included some brief information below on the requirements where calves are kept outdoors.

Where calves are not kept in buildings

Animals not kept in buildings must, where necessary and possible:

  • Be given protection from adverse weather conditions
  • Be protected from predators
  • Be protected from risks to their health
  • Have access to a well-drained lying area at all times
  • Have access to water at all times
  • Be inspected at least once a day to check their wellbeing
  • Have access to shade
  • Have access to shelter
  • Be fenced securely and safely
  • Be protected from biting insects

There must be a contingency plan in place for extreme weather where outwintering is used.

Buildings and accommodation

The following points must be adhered to when constructing buildings or accommodation for housing youngstock:

  • Materials used for the construction of accommodation – and in particular the construction of pens, stalls and equipment that the animals may come into contact with – must not be harmful to them and must be capable of being thoroughly cleaned and disinfected
  • Accommodation and fittings for securing animals must be constructed and maintained so that there are no sharp edges or protrusions likely to cause injury
  • Air circulation, dust levels, temperature, relative air humidity and gas concentrations must be kept within limits which are not harmful to the animals
  • Animals kept in buildings must not be kept in permanent darkness
  • Where the natural light available in a building is insufficient to meet the physiological or ethological needs of the animals, appropriate artificial light must be provided
  • Where animals are kept in a building, adequate lighting (whether fixed or portable) must be available to enable them to be thoroughly inspected at any time
  • Animals kept in buildings must not be kept without an appropriate period of rest from artificial light

Schedule 6 of The Welfare of Farmed Animals (England) Regulations 2007 outlines further requirements which refer specifically to the keeping of calves. The requirements, given below, refer specifically to the design of the housing system.


When constructing your youngstock housing accommodation, it is important to allocate the correct minimum amount of space per calf to make sure that your housing complies with legal requirements:

  • No calf may be confined in an individual stall or pen after eight weeks of age unless a veterinary surgeon certifies that its health or behaviour requires it to be isolated in order to receive treatment
  • The width of an individual pen must be at least equal to the height of the calf at the withers, and the length must be at least equal to the length of the calf (measured from the tip of the nose to the pin bones) multiplied by 1.1
  • Individual pens (except for those isolating sick animals) must have perforated walls to allow calves visual and tactile contact
  • For calves kept in groups, the unobstructed space allowance available to each calf must be:
    • At least 1.5 m2 per calf with a liveweight of <150 kg
    • At least 2.0 m2 per calf with a liveweight of 150–200 kg
    • At least 3.0 m2 per calf with a liveweight of >200 kg
  • Each calf must be able to stand up, lie down, turn around, rest and groom itself without hindrance
  • Each calf on a holding on which two or more calves are kept,must be able to see at least one other calf

Artificially lit buildings

Where calves are kept in an artificially lit building, artificial light must be provided for a period at least equivalent to the period of natural light normally available between 9:00am and 5:00pm.


Where calves are kept in a building, floors must be smooth but not slippery. They should be designed, constructed and maintained so as not to cause injury or suffering to calves standing or lying on them. Floors should be suitable for the size and weight of the calves and form a ridged, even and stable surface.

The Code of Recommendations for the Welfare of Livestock: Cattle (2003) adds that floors for cattle should not slope more than 10% as steeper slopes can cause leg problems, slipping and falling. In addition, you should not let slurry build up on concrete floors and passageways, as this will also make the floor slippery.

Bedding and lying area

All calves must be provided with appropriate bedding and be kept on, or have access to, a lying area which is clean, comfortable and adequately drained. This lying area must not adversely affect the calf.

All housed calves and those kept in hutches or temporary structures must be kept on, or at all times have access to, a lying area which is well maintained with dry bedding.

Cleaning and disinfection

Housing, stalls, pens, equipment and utensils used for calves must be properly cleaned and disinfected as often as necessary to prevent cross-infection and build-up of disease-carrying organisms.

Faeces, urine and uneaten or spoilt food must always be removed to minimise smell and to avoid attracting flies or rodents.


All calves must be fed at least twice each day. Where calves are housed in a group and do not have continuous access to food or are not fed by an automatic feeding system, each calf must have access to food at the same time as the others in the feeding group.

All calves must be provided with food which contains sufficient iron to ensure a blood haemoglobin level of at least 4.5 mmol/litre.

A minimum daily ration of fibrous food must be provided for each calf over two weeks old, the quantity being raised in line with the growth of the calf from a minimum of 100 g at two weeks old to a minimum of 250 g at 20 weeks old.


Each calf must receive bovine colostrum as soon as possible after it is born, and in any event, within the first six hours of life.

Drinking water

All calves must be provided with enough fresh drinking water each day. It is vital they are provided with fresh drinking water at all times in hot weather conditions or when they are ill.


All housed calves must be inspected by the owner or other person responsible for the calves at least twice a day to check their wellbeing. Any animals which appear to be ill or injured must be cared for appropriately and without delay. Seek veterinary advice where appropriate.

Tethering and muzzling

Calves may not be tethered, with the exception of group-housed calves. Group-housed calves may be tethered for up to one hour when being fed milk or milk substitute.

Where tethers are used under this exception, the tether must not cause pain or injury to the calves and must be inspected regularly and adjusted as necessary to ensure a comfortable fit. Each tether must be designed to avoid the risk of strangulation, pain or injury and allow the calf to stand up, lie down, rest and groom itself without hinderance.

Calves must not be muzzled.

Additional codes of practice and market guidelines

The Welfare of Farmed Animals Regulations 2007 provide overall minimum requirements which must be adhered to. Further practical recommendations and guidance are available to inform and support farmers in the design of optimal calf housing facilities to suit individual farm needs and enhance calf health and welfare.

The Code of Recommendations for the Welfare of Livestock: Cattle adds some detail to help the design process and states that housed calves require an environment that is:

  • Dry
  • Well drained
  • Well bedded
  • Well ventilated
  • Draught free

Where cows and their calves are group housed, calves should have a separate solid floor and bedded area which the cows are unable to access. Newborn or young calves should not be put on totally slatted floors.

Code of Practice for Design and Construction of Cattle Buildings, BS5502-40:2005

Further guidance is provided by BS5502-40:2005. This is an advisory standard and not legislation but it represents good practice.

The code states that calves under 8 weeks old should be kept in groups of 12 or less, while calves from 8 weeks to 6 months should be kept in groups of no more than 20 animals.

When calves are loose housed, the range of minimum bedded areas is shown in Table 1.

Table 1. Prescribed minimum dimensions of bedded areas

Calf weight (kg)Minimum area per calf (m2)
60 1.5
85 1.8
140 2.4

Additionally, BS5502 introduces guidelines for minimum airspace per calf (Table 2).

Table 2. Minimum airspace per calf

Calf weight (kg)Minimum air capacity per calf (m3)
60 6
61–85 10
86140 13
141200 15

Red Tractor Farm Assurance Scheme (October 2022)

The Red Tractor Dairy assurance scheme – Dairy Standards (October 2022) and the Red Tractor Beef & Lamb assurance scheme – Beef & Lamb Standards (October 2022) set out requirements for reared calves reared under its scheme. The Standards state that the recommendations set out in BS5502-40:2005 must be followed.

While The Welfare of Farmed Animals (England) Regulations 2007 state all calves shall be fed at least twice each day, the Red Tractor assurance schemes expand this requirement. They require artificially reared beef and dairy calves be provided with at least 2 milk feeds a day until 28 days and not weaned before 5 weeks of age. To be given dry, fresh clean feed including forage from 14 days of age and sufficient access to clean fresh drinking water at all times from birth.

For dairy calves, since autumn 2021, there is an additional requirement under the Red Tractor Dairy assurance scheme – Dairy Standards, to provide rearing facilities to cover the number of youngstock. This stipulates that you must provide calving pattern provision for 100% of expected births over a 10-day period. This does not mean the facilities have to be permanently set up. However, the space must be allocated with a known number of pens or hutches for the herd size and appropriate calving pattern.

For example, a 440-cow herd with a tight calving pattern of 42 days will require space allocation for 105 calves.

A 440-cow herd calving all year will require space allocation for 13 calves.

RSPCA welfare standards

The RSPCA welfare standards for beef cattle (February 2020) and RSPCA welfare standards for dairy cattle (June 2021) provide additional details and requirements to further enhance calf welfare which may give you food for thought when designing or updating your calf housing and for future proofing purposes. These include:

  • Provision of environmental enrichment for calves from 6 weeks of age onwards
  • A thermal environment between 7–25°C with calf jackets applied in temperatures below 7°C
  • Air speed to be taken into consideration when assessing thermal environment and ventilation
  • Adequate fixed or portable lighting of 100–200 lux at calf level to enable calves to be inspected at all times

The RSPCA welfare standards describe specific requirements relating to calf hutches.

Hutches must:

  • Be made of a material which minimises heat stress and wide temperature fluctuations
  • Have ventilation that's able to remove excess humidity and condensation while eliminating draughts but retaining constant air circulation
  • Be placed on a free-draining base and be fixed to the ground to prevent movement in high winds
  • Be located in a sheltered position, protected from prevailing weather
  • Have sufficient bedding to exclude draughts
  • Have dry bedding available for calves at all times
  • Be of a size appropriate to the age and breed of the animal
  • Be arranged so calves can see, hear and touch other calves in neighbouring hutches

Tethering of calves within the hutch is prohibited.

Where the health or behaviour of a calf has required them to be placed into an isolation pen, that pen must allow the calf to see, smell and hear other calves.

The RSPCA welfare standards also set out additional requirements for the feeding of calves. Where calves are fed by an ad-lib automated system or milk given via a trough, there must be sufficient space for all calves to drink at the same time. This helps reduce competition between calves that may have result in feed intake limitations. Where a teat feeding system is used, teats must be positioned so that calves can drink in a natural position. Where calves are rationed by a transponder, feed stations must be designed to allow all calves to drink without hindrance. Where bucket fed, each calf should have an individual bucket and should be transferred to a teat feeding system if high levels of abnormal sucking behaviour are seen.

Evidence shows that gradual weaning (by gradually decreasing the volume of milk fed over a 10–14 day period) results in better dry matter intake post-weaning and is less stressful for calves, which has positive welfare implications. Calves should therefore be gradually weaned where possible.

Calves should have access to at least 1 kg per day of solid food as a starter ration. Once calves are more than 8 days old, they should also have daily access to dried feed or forage material containing 100–250 g of digestible fibre. Roughage should be supplied separately to bedding material and should be available at all times. Starter roughage for calves should be good quality hay or straw.

Due to the problems associated with Johne’s disease and newly born calves, RSPCA standard strongly recommended that when there is an identified risk of the disease on the unit, veterinary advice is taken regarding the management of newborns, prior to calving. To minimise the likelihood of infection, consider removing the calf from its dam earlier than recommended in the RSPCA welfare standards for beef cattle.

Other assurance schemes

Some of the milk buyers’ farm assurance schemes stipulate that as well as young calves having sight and touch of other calves from birth, they should be moved into pairs or groups within three weeks of birth. One scheme requires calves to be accommodated in pairs from birth.

The quality of the environment is the most important determinant of success with calf housing. While it is essential that the regulations are complied with, the detail of the design and management included on these web pages should guarantee success. A design that considers how staff will carry out routine tasks, maintenance and cleaning, and viewing the design from the animal’s level will assist with animal movements around the building, reduce stress for animals and staff and provide labour-saving efficiency too.

Read more about youngstock housing

Design questions to consider

Temperature, humidity and ventilation

Housing layout and construction

Designing housing to feed calves with ease

Housing systems

System cost comparisons

Case studies

Cobblers Farm

Eldon Farm

Holly Green Farm

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Youngstock housing