Because they can’t wear ski jackets and snow pants

Posted on February 1, 2013 in Dairy Performance
By Ann Hoskins It’s cold out there.  No doubt about it.  Your calves are noticing it too. Just like you put on multiple layers of clothing before you head outside in the winter, your calves need to “bundle up” when it gets cold. What’s more, their “winter outfits” need to be dry and clean to prevent respiratory disease. Here are some quick tips to follow when bedding hutches and pens this winter:

  • Start with a clean, disinfected hutch. Pressure wash, disinfect and let the hutch dry between calves.
  • Place hutches on a clean, dry area – preferably with a cement or gravel base.
  • Distribute a light layer of hydrated lime on the hutch base to disinfect and dry out the area.
  • Start with a 3- to 4-inch layer of shavings or sawdust to help absorb moisture.
  • Twelve inches of long straw is necessary for calves to nest in order to maintain body temperature during cold weather. (Two-thirds of the calf’s legs should “disappear” in the bedding when she lies down.)
  • When determining if bedding is dry, use the “knee test.”  Kneel in the bedding for 30 seconds. Your knee should be dry when you stand up. If not, the bedding is too wet.
  • Use clean bedding that is free of dust and mold.

Newborn calves are particularly vulnerable to temperature changes.  The newborn calf has a thermoneutral zone that falls between 55 and 77 degrees F, which means calves don’t need to use extra energy to maintain body temperature in this range.  When temperatures drop, calves need more calories to provide additional energy to stay warm.  If those energy needs are not met, calves will lose body weight and have suppressed immune systems. It is estimated that calves need about 32 percent more energy between the temperatures of 25 and 55 degrees F just for maintenance.  Here are some options for winter feeding:

  • Increase volume: Feed an 85-pound calf 2.5 quarts twice daily rather than the standard 2 quarts fed at other times.
  • Increase milk replacer powder-to-water ratio: Increase the amount of powder while keeping the liquid constant (not to exceed 15 percent solids).
  • Supplement to increase energy density: Increase the energy density of the diet with a fat supplement (Vita Plus Calf Energize contains 60 percent fat and 7 percent protein).  Keeping the mix consistent is key to using supplemental fat.
  • Add an extra feeding: Although sometimes hard to schedule, an effective solution for very young calves and zero-degree weather is a mid-day feeding.  This feeding is only for calves under 3 weeks of age or calves not consuming enough calf starter.  Feed about 1.5 quarts extra and try to spread the feedings as close to an 8-hour feeding schedule as possible.

Remember that when feeding more energy to calves, starter intake may decrease or be delayed in younger calves.  It is still important to provide fresh starter and warm water to calves in cold temperatures. Finally, you know younger calves need to be wearing their calf jackets this time of year.  Just keep an eye on the calves as they grow to ensure jackets are fitting properly and not becoming too tight. About the author: Ann Hoskins is the Vita Plus calf products manager.  She grew up on a dairy farm in DeForest, Wis., which she says is instrumental to where she is today.  “The lessons and values I gained growing up in this industry have given me the passion to stay involved and continue to learn more every day.” Hoskins earned her bachelor’s degree from the University of Wisconsin-Madison and has spent that last five years at Vita Plus, working with producers to improve performance and help them reach the goals of their calf operations.

Category: Calf and heifer nutrition
Dairy Performance
Facility design
Winter calf care