Are Your Calves Feeling the Stress of Winter?

Posted on November 4, 2012 in Starting Strong - Calf Care
By Ann Hoskins, Vita Plus Calf Products Coordinator

Winter can be very stressful for calves and this winter is no exception. Many steps can be taken to help prevent your calves from being adversely affected by the cold weather-related stress. Producers should provide additional calories to maintain growth, performance and health, as well as a dry, deep-bedded area to help maintain body temperature. These tips will help to ensure well-grown and healthy calves.
A newborn calf’s thermo-neutral temperature is between 50 and 80 degrees. Depending on a number of factors, newborn calves are neither heating nor cooling themselves in this temperature range, they are simply maintaining.  Some variables include: body condition, wind exposure, breed, bedding type and health.  As the weather turns colder more calories are needed to provide additional energy for warmth.
Calves need additional energy for steady growth and to support the developing immune system. Calves may use between 20 and 33 percent more energy during cold stress.
Ways to increase energy in time of cold stress:
  • Increase the liquid feeding rate
  • Increase the dilution rate of milk replacer, not to exceed
  • 20 percent solids
  • Feed an additional milk feeding
  • Provide clean, fresh water to calves when possible
Remember to always allow for a slow transition when making changes to the calf’s diet.
Housing and Ventilation
Providing an excellent housing environment and nesting is essential to successfully raising healthy calves in the winter.  Research has shown calves spend 73 to 81 percent of their time lying down in daylight hours and almost 100 percent at night if not disturbed.  This makes the resting surface and space crucial for performance.
A study conducted by the University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Veterinary Medicine found most calves in the Midwest do not have sufficient bedding to allow for nesting. Appropriate “nesting” is accomplished when a calf is lying down and two-thirds of the calf’s legs have disappeared in the bedding. Long, clean straw is the best source of bedding in cold temperatures because it provides a nest for the calf to snuggle in order to maintain body temperature.
It is very important to keep calves dry and free of fecal matter to help minimize heat loss. When determining if bedding is dry use the “knee test.”  Kneel in the bedding for 30 seconds.  If your knee is dry upon standing, the bedding is dry. Keeping the bedding dry will also reduce airborne bacteria at the calf level, which will reduce the incidence of pneumonia.
Use clean bedding, free of dust and mold. Use shavings and sawdust as a base in individual pens to help keep the pens dry by absorbing liquids.
Individual enclosed calf pens, including hutches, have been designed to prevent drafts, but can inadvertently cause highly polluted microenvironments of airborne bacteria associated with respiratory disease. A well-ventilated facility will allow for ample air flow and reduce drafts. When evaluating a facility, check ventilation and air quality at calf level, approximately 12 to 14 inches above bedding. Maintaining ample bedding and clean air will promote health and increase performance.
Calf Jackets
We wear jackets and bundle up in the winter, so why shouldn’t our calves? When picking a blanket, choose a blanket that is the correct size for the breed and is easy to wash between uses to minimize the spread of disease.
Calf blankets help keep animals dry and minimize heat loss. They are especially beneficial for the smallest calves and are usually worn until the calves are consuming grain. If you have a limited number of jackets, use the ones you do have on the smallest calves first.
Blankets should be put on calves when the newborn calf is dry and ready to move to its permanent location. Calf blankets can be used on older calves experiencing cold stress or health challenges. Always use a clean jacket on every calf.
In times of stress, additional energy and a dry, deep-bedded area as well as close attention to details will help your calves thrive in a cold, wet winter.

Category: Calf and heifer nutrition
Starting Strong - Calf Care
Winter calf care