For two Wisconsin dairies, well-designed maternity pens are leading to better outcomes for both cows and calves. In the past few years, Wayside Dairy and J&J Pickart Dairy have each made improvements to their transition cow facilities to accommodate just-in-time calving.

Coffeen peggy
Coffeen was a former editor and podcast host with Progressive Dairy. 

Both designed barns with maternity areas that promote easy cow handling and individualized care for both cow and calf.


J&J Pickart Dairy LLC
Malone, Wisconsin
650 cows
Owned by Jeff and Tammy Pickart, and John and Shirley Pickart

Jeff Pickart “wanted to be more on top of things” on his 650-cow dairy near Malone, Wisconsin. Cows were calving on a bedded pack in an overcrowded and outdated facility, and he was not pleased with 10 percent calf death loss. This prompted him to dedicate a barn to transition cows, including a specially designed maternity area.

Now, a few years later, the results speak for themselves. “Our death loss has been 5 percent so far this year,” Pickart says, crediting an overhaul to the transition cow program that included barn design.


dairy barn

With the prefresh group located on one end of the barn, a trained maternity worker can walk the pen, watching for cows in active labor. Once the front feet appear, the cow is separated and walked down a drover’s lane to the opposite end of the barn. Here, she is moved into one of two 14-by-14-foot maternity pens, where she receives individual attention and any necessary calving assistance.

The pens are lined with rubber mats to ensure solid footing. A headlock and milking hookup in each calving pen allows the cow to be milked immediately and treated according to fresh cow protocols. After milking, the cow is promptly walked down another drover’s lane to the fresh pen located across the feed alley.


Right away, each newborn is tagged, tube-fed and vaccinated according to protocol. Then calves are moved a short distance across a walkway into a warming room set between 65ºF and 70ºF. A small overhead door opens up to the outside so calves can be picked up regularly and hauled to the nearby calf barn.

A dry-erase chart posted on the wall makes for an easy way to document calving information. It includes details for both the cow and the calf, including check boxes for colostrum-feeding protocols and level of calving assistance required.


Cleanliness is a top priority for Pickart, and the maternity area’s design makes sanitizing a simple task. No bedding is used in the calving pens. Around the outside of the pen, plastic paneling isolates the maternity area from the adjacent group pen, which Pickart says keeps dirt and manure out. These surfaces are sprayed down with a chlorine dioxide product.

“We sanitize the pen every time, after each cow,” Pickart emphasizes.

Cow comfort is important not just during calving but before and after as well. The barn holds around 180 far-off dry cows, prefresh and fresh cows, which he strives to keep at 80 percent stocking density to allow for adequate bunk space. The 48-inch-wide stalls in the prefresh pen accommodate both heifers and cows as they relax on a bed of half-recycled and half-new sand.

Natzke family

Wayside Dairy
Greenleaf, Wisconsin
1,750 cows
Owned by the families of Dan Natzke, Jeremy Natzke and Paul Natzke

Three years ago, Wayside Dairy in Greenleaf, Wisconsin, added a transition cow barn with a convenient maternity area to improve efficiency on their 1,750-cow dairy.

dairy barn

Previously, transition cows were housed in a separate facility that was an eighth-of-a-mile walk from the milking parlor. Now prefresh and fresh cows are kept under one roof.

“We are much more efficient now,” Jeremy Natzke says. The barn was designed to support just-in-time calving with drover’s lanes leading from the group pens to individual calving pens.

With six 10-by-14-foot pens, the maternity area can handle the dairy’s calving peaks – yet it was designed with flexibility in mind. The gates dividing the pens swing, thus making them expandable. Two pens can quickly become one large pen to give the cow more room. Each pen has a headlock and a plug-in to the milking line.

barn interior

After calving, each fresh cow will have her first milking here; however, the goal is for her to spend as little time in the calving pen as possible. She will be moved to the fresh group in time for her next milking. While the stay in the calving pen may be brief, a clean covering of fresh straw keeps things dry and comfortable.

The setup allows for efficient newborn calf care as well. Just across the alleyway from the maternity pens is a block that includes an office area for employees, supply room and warming room. This provides a place for workers to test and pasteurize colostrum before feeding it to the calf, and the warming room has individual stalls and heat lamps for the new babies.

calving area

The alley between the pens and these rooms was designed to be wide enough to drive through to deliver bedding to the adjacent group pen.

The transition barn is a unique design that combines tunnel and natural ventilation to keep cows comfortable before, during and after calving.


Natzke explains that on a mild day, opening the curtains and ridge provides adequate air movement. As the weather gets muggy and humid, however, the large, 72-inch fans at the end of the barn kick in to really deliver a cooling effect.

“We really like the tunnel ventilation,” he says, noting that it keeps the barn cooler in the summer and warmer in the winter. In fact, the dairy recently renovated its two main barns to also include the tunnel ventilation option.

calf pens

He has noticed that the steady air movement deters flies and birds from congregating in the barns, along with less bunching on hot summer days.

Baffles, located every 60 feet, help to drop the air for more effective cooling. As the air hits the baffles and comes down, it cools at cow-level. These were installed as a trade-off for adding more fans. PD

peggy coffeen