By Dr. Owen Mickley, DVM, Vita Plus dairy specialist
Q: We have been looking at using a calf warmer for our newborns. What are the pros and cons?
A: Calf warming boxes provide an opportunity to enhance the first few critical hours in a calf’s life. The major benefit of preventing the calf from losing body heat in the winter is obvious. But warming boxes can add some other benefits too.
Guarding against disease exposure is a major focus of newborn calf programs. Calves are typically removed soon after birth, reducing the risk of exposure to a variety of pathogens, including E. coli, salmonella, Johnes, crypto, coccida, etc. A newborn calf can burn a large amount of calories in attempt to generate body heat. If this increased caloric demand is too great, it will compromise the health of the calf. The body will divert energy away from the immune system when the calf is hypothermic. By keeping the calf warm, we have the opportunity to take a challenging time and turn it into an excellent start for the calf.
The concept of these warming boxes is fairly simple and many options are available. Do-it-yourself individuals can easily build their own systems, but commercial products are available too. Regardless, the boxes must be easy to clean, provide adequate ventilation while preventing a draft, and provide a stable heat source. We can greatly reduce the risks to the newborn calf’s health by promptly removing the calf from the dam, towel drying it, placing it in a warming box, and delivering enough clean, quality colostrum.
Finally, it’s important to keep the calf warm after it leaves the maternity area as well. The addition of a calf jacket, plus deep straw bedding, can be beneficial as the calf makes the transition out of the warming box.
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