Transporting Bobby Calves


9 min read

Animal welfare Transport requirements Regulations for loading facilities How to zone your farm Regulations for calf holding and loading facilities Loading facility design specifications Loading design options

Prioritising the health of bobby calves makes transporting them more efficient. Additionally, they must meet requirements for transportation before leaving the farm to keep them comfortable and healthy. You can keep them safe by following bobby calf loading facility guidelines and design options that consider their health and safety. This helps to improve on-farm biosecurity by reducing the risk of exposure to pests, weeds and disease.

Animal welfare

Animal welfare is at the heart of any good farming business. Our responsibility for the wellbeing of stock starts at birth and continues beyond the farm gate.

Calves must be fit for transport before they leave the farm.

Requirements for transporting calves

8 things calves need in order to be fit for transport:

  • Be at least four days old
  • Be healthy, with no visible disease (e.g. scours), deformity, injury, blindness or disability
  • Have bright eyes and upright ears
  • Have the correct ear tag
  • Be strong, able to rise from a lying position unassisted, move freely around the pen and bear weight on all four limbs
  • Have firm hooves on which the soles show wear (indicating that they have been mobile)
  • Have a dry and withered navel
  • Have a full tummy – no antibiotic milk

Is a calf fit for transport?

Watch the video and learn how to check if a calf is fit for transport.

How to check if a calf is fit for transport

Video Download

Regulations for loading facilities

Regardless of their purpose, all calves must be treated with care and respect, kept in a healthy and safe environment.

How to make biosecure loading facilities and slink pick up points

Whenever calves leave the farm on a truck, you want to work with your transporter and make their job as easy as possible. This will help to ensure that your calves are treated with care. Use the red, orange, green system to map out zones on your farm.

General rules for the red, orange, green zones:

Red: No go areas for visitors, tankers, livestock trucks (i.e paddocks and heifer rearing sheds). Red zones can only be entered after carrying out visitor biosecurity requirements.

Orange: Areas that have a mix of cows, farm staff, visitors and equipment (i.e. the milking shed and bobby calf sheds).

Green: Areas that have unrestricted access to visitors, their vehicles, tankers and livestock trucks but restricted access by cows (I.e. the milk tanker track, access tracks to houses on farm, bobby calf and slink pick up points).

The bobby calf truck should remain in the green zone whilst on farm. When loading bobby calves, minimise crossover between the truck, drivers, and the inside of your bobby calf sheds.

Here are some examples of how to zone your farm.

How to zone your farm - diagram

TIP: Have separate equipment (feeders, boots, overalls) for the heifer shed and bobby shed, or disinfect between each use.

Regulations for calf holding and loading facilities

Off the roadside

  • Roadside collection is hazardous to truck drivers, staff and other road users.

Accessible for the truck and trailer to reverse up to

  • Access should be free draining and constructed with a level, hard-standing surface.
  • Track width should be no less than 4m wide.
  • Height clearance of 4.3m for any overhead obstructions e.g. trees, water lines and electric fence wires; and 6m for powerlines. Loading calves directly under powerlines should be avoided.

  • Locate the loading facility at or near the bobby calf rearing pen and allow sufficient turnaround for a truck and trailer unit (25m).
  • Consider other traffic flow – if you are positioning or accessing the holding facility via the tanker track, design loading so that both trucks can pass or at least travel in the same direction.
  • Maintain clear access, avoid holding stock in the access way or having gates across the roadway that require opening and shutting.
  • Ensure that all bridges/culverts are safe, fit for purpose and that truck weight loadings are within the structure’s design loading specifications.
  • Secure dogs and use a sign on the gateway to alert drivers if there is the possibility of children being in the area.

The Code of Practice for design and operation of farm dairies (NZCP1) has no conditions about loading facilities and proximity of the farm dairy.

Calves must not be housed within 20m of the farm dairy, however, you can temporarily hold calves within 20m of the farm dairy before pick-up (e.g. on the same day while waiting for collection, with time of holding minimised).

All standards regarding surfaces and drainage apply, as do requirements for shelter. If you’re taking this approach, the area where calves are held must be maintained in a suitably hygienic state and must be cleaned immediately after the calves have been collected.

Calves should be able to walk on to the truck

Holding and loading facilities should be designed and constructed so that calves are able to walk directly from the loading facility onto the truck. Health and safety regulations mean that it’s no longer acceptable for transporters to repeatedly lift calves from the ground to truck deck height. Raised loading facilities will also help to improve the wellbeing of calves being transported.

Loading facility design specifications

Consider the environment of where your facility is located as the design will depend on where the platform is situated (e.g. wind direction, exposure and rain fall, or additional windbreakers may be required to stop calves from getting wet).

  1. Platform: level, with a load height of 1200mm.

  2. Loading doorway: a width of 800 to 900mm.

  3. Pens side height:

a. 900mm to 1100mm solid construction (ply or closely spaced rails to provide shelter, if rails are used, spacing must not create a hazard for calf heads/legs).

b. If using rails, the gap between the bottom rail and floor should be no more than 100mm.

c. If using a top rail, the gap between the top rail and the rail below or solid side must be no more than 450mm.

  1. Flooring: solid construction, free-draining non-slip surface and slatted flooring is ideal. The use of non-slip rubber matting or geogrid stretched and secured over a timber slated floor can add grip and prevent hooves from being caught in floor slats. A gap of 15 to 20mm between slats is recommended.

  2. Total size: large enough to allow all calves to lie down in comfort. Pen size depends on farm size and calf numbers. 2.4m x 2.4m is considered suitable for most farms as this size pen will comfortably hold 15 to 20 calves depending on calf breed/size. Smaller farms could reduce the size to 2.4m x 1.2m. Larger farms may need multiple pens. For a large pen, use a divider/backing gate to manage larger numbers of calves and to help confine the calves during the loading process.

Space allowance for calf breeds

Breed Area/calf Calves/m³ 2.4m x 2.4m 2.4m x 1.2m
Jerseys/Cross breed 0.3 - 0.35 2.9 - 3.3 17 - 20 calves Up to 10 calves
Holstein/Friesian 0.35 - 0.4 2.5 - 2.9 15 - 17 calves Up to 8 calves
  1. Construction and hardware: covered pens and loading facilities need to be safely accessible for people and safe for calves, avoid sharp edges, trip hazards, protrusions, etc.

  2. Water: calves must have fresh water available in the pen.

  3. Shelter: calves that have been removed from their mothers must be provided with shelter from weather likely to affect their welfare. The loading facility should either be:

  • Within an existing building or in the shelter of one or
  • Have a roof that is high enough to be accessible for people and have solid pen walls or
  • A moveable pen on skids that can be stored within a building and moved into position immediately before the truck arrives.

Ramp recommendations

Ramps can be used to load calves either into a raised holding pen before pick-up (recommended) or be loaded out of a ground level pen onto the truck.

  • Internal width: guideline 800 to 900mm.
  • Slope: as a general rule, the shallower the slope the better. 5:1 (11 degrees) is optimal.
  • Incorporate 50mm x 20mm cleats at 200mm centres into the walking surface to provide additional grip for calves and people, or build a stepped ramp with 50mm risers and 250mm treads.
  • Geogrid mesh securely fastened to the slope is an effective way of adding grip.
  • Adding solid sides to the ramp at a minimum height of 900mm to 1100mm is recommended.
  • If using the ramp to load onto a truck, construct a level platform approximately 1.5m in length at the top of the ramp so stock load on to the truck from a flat even surface and not directly from a slope.
  • If converting a sheep or adult cattle ramp, ensure there are no overhead barriers or railing that would be a hazard to people. Also ensure the slope and surface is appropriate for young calves.

The holding pen

  • It is the farmer’s responsibility to select calves that are fit for transport. The holding pen should be a dedicated area where only calves that have been assessed and confirmed as being fit for transport are placed before collection.
  • Calves to be transported should be tagged and clearly identified to avoid any animals being collected by mistake. The holding pen should provide a safe, sheltered, well drained and ventilated area for the calves. By raising the holding pen, calves may be loaded directly on to the truck; alternatively use a ramp to load from the holding pen.

Building consents

Check with your local council to see if your proposed facility needs building consent or whether it is exempt under Schedule 1 of the Building Act.

Building consent is not normally required if it is a temporary, moveable or detached structure or is a permanent structure that:

  • Has a floor level of up to 1m above the supporting ground and a height of up to 3.5m above the floor level.
  • Does not exceed 10m² in floor area.
  • Is further than its measured height from any existing dwelling or boundary, i.e. if the holding pen is 3m high it must not be built within 3m of any existing dwelling or property boundary.

For more information on building work that does not require a building consent you can go to building.govt.nz.

If you want to construct a floor height higher than 1m to achieve the desired loading height of 1200mm, you may need to apply for a building exemption. Guidelines on the consent process can be found at building.govt.nz.

Regardless of whether consent is required or not, the structure must be safe and must comply with the building code.

Health and safety

Identified hazards should be addressed through good design rather than management controls.

  • If building a new facility, talk with your transport operator to help with the initial design and location.
  • Use non-slip and non-bruising materials.
  • Talk to a builder or engineer and build using materials and fasteners to create a structure that is fit for purpose and well within safe working load limits.
  • To comply with health and safety requirements, the pen sides must be of 900mm to 1100mm high, and be able to withstand a sideways force of 550N (56kg).
  • Where possible design holding facilities, so you don’t need to lift calves. Lifting a limited number of calves onto a raised pen is permitted, as long as safe lifting techniques are used. 

Maintaining safety standards

  • Talk with your transporter regularly to help identify any emerging safety risks promptly.
  • Keep facilities clean and in a good state of repair.
  • Make sure that anyone using the facility is appropriately trained and aware of any potential hazards.
  • Report all faults or safety issues to management.
  • The loading and other openings must be able to be closed off and secured to minimise the risk of anyone falling from the platform, including when the facility is not in use.
Potential hazard Solution to hazard
Crush point between the facility and reversing truck. Create a no-go zone between the truck and the ramp.
Portable ramps/holding pen moving backwards or becoming unstable when the truck reverses into it. Create a no go zone behind the ramp.
Poor alignment between the facility creating a gap. Use a solid hinged flap or extension to cover the gap between the loading facility and the truck. Fit a compressible buffer at the truck/facility interface.
Consider health and safety requirements when planning and reviewing access to the holding facility. Stairs with handrails are much safer than fixed ladders. Portable ladders should be avoided.

Loading design options

Earth bank with a wooden retaining wall

Use existing topography and dig into a bank or create an earth mound against a wooden retaining wall, providing a face to load off. Depending on existing topography and available drainage, it may be possible to reduce the necessary loading height by digging down to lower the deck height of the truck so that the access point is lower.

Packed earth ramps

Form sides and loading face using treated posts and timber rails, then create the ramp by filling between the timber sides using packed earth.

Existing raised structure

Adapting an existing woolshed or utilising a disused tanker stand may provide a low-cost option to achieve the correct loading height.

Existing loading ramp

Typically loading ramps for cows are not suitable for calves as they may be too steep or have wide gaps in the sides, which can become trap hazards for calves. Attaching plywood with cable ties to create a solid-sided ramp may be an affordable option. You might have to create a sheltered holding area as well.

Raised platforms

You can get a commercial holding platform from a timber merchant or a farm supply store in some regions. They offer a variety of kit-sets, typically moveable and made of timber on skids. Not all kit-set platforms are supplied with a roof, so you may need to place them within an existing structure to provide sufficient shelter from extreme weather conditions. Alternatively, build your own using the specifications outlined above.

If you are purchasing a commercially produced holding pen, check that it has been designed to meet the New Zealand Building Code requirements and that Producer Statements are available.

Another option for raised platforms is a ramp that can be incorporated into the design, so you will not have to lift calves into the holding area.

Using a tractor-mounted carry tray may also be an option on some farms.

Loading design gallery

The design of your facility should depend on where the platform is situated, wind direction, exposure and rain fall, additional windbreakers may be required to stop calves from getting wet.

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Comercially available facility with drive access

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Comercially available facility with optional ramp

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Good no-slip ramp

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Good slat design

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Good use of existing loading facility

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Home built pen in lee of shed for additional shelter

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Lower truck hieght - retaining wall

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Raised sheltered pen with direct access to bobby calf housing

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Stock crate for front end loader

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Use of existing wool shed

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Use of existing wool shed

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Comercially available facility on skids

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Use of straining posts to create solid bump bar

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Angled gateway allows for easy truck alignment

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Concrete option

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Last updated: Sep 2023

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