Cold Weather Feeding Options for Calves

Posted on November 5, 2012 in Starting Strong - Calf Care
Environmental factors can have major effects on the energy requirement of young calves. Newborn calves are particularly vulnerable to temperature changes. The newborn calf has a thermoneutral zone that falls between 55˚F and 77˚F. Within this range of temperatures the animal is not required to dissipate or conserve heat to maintain body temperature. Therefore, when the ambient temperature drops below 55˚F newborn calves need to expend extra energy to maintain body temperature. If these increased energy requirements are not met, calves will lose body weight and have suppressed immune systems.

As outside temperatures start to decrease the energy devoted to keeping calves warm goes up.  It is estimated that calves need about 32 percent extra energy between the temperatures of 55˚F and 25˚F just for maintenance. This does not account for growth and proper immune function.
The first way to increase dry matter intake from milk or milk replacer is to feed more of it. The 32 percent increase needed when temperatures drop to 20˚F means feeding an 85 pound calf 2.5 quarts twice daily rather than the standard two quarts fed during the fall.
The second choice applies to those farms feeding milk replacer and it is to increase the amount of powder while keeping the liquid constant. By doing this we can get higher energy intake at a constant two quarts per feeding.
Another option is to increase the energy density of the diet with supplemental fat. Supplemental fat products usually contain about 60 percent fat and seven to 10 percent protein.  They are added to milk or milk replacer at 1/4 to 1/2 pound per calf per day to provide extra energy for maintenance and growth.  These products are usually easy mixing and easy for the producer to use.  Keeping the mix consistent is key to using supplemental fat.
Although sometimes hard to schedule, a very effective solution for very young calves and zero degree weather is a mid-day feeding. This feeding is only for calves under three weeks of age or calves not consuming enough calf starter. Feed about 1.5 quarts extra that is approximately a 33 percent increase over the 4.5 quarts per day normally fed during winter. Try to spread the feedings as close to an eight hour feeding schedule as possible.  Cramming feedings too close may leave calves not finishing their evening meal and leaving the calf most susceptible during the coldest and longest part of the day.
Remember that when feeding more energy to calves starter intake may decrease or delay intake on younger calves.  It is still important to provide fresh starter and warm water to calves in cold temperatures.  Successful calf care in the winter relies on two keys; consuming two to three pounds of starter a day for three consecutive days prior to weaning and providing enough energy to meet their increased needs.
Keys to Successful Calf Raising in Cold Temperatures
  • Provide enough energy in the diet to maintain growth and performance
  • Slowly transition to the winter feeding program. Changing solids levels too quickly may cause bloating or calves to go off feed
  • Solids level of reconstituted milk replacer should not exceed 20 percent when additional solids are fed
  • Calves need access to fresh, clean, warm water starting at day three
  • Offer fresh starter daily at day three
  • House calves in a clean, draft-free, dry and well bedded environment
  • Bed calves with a thick, 12-inch layer of long straw to allow nesting
  • Consider the use of calf jackets
  • Clean, sanitize and dry feeding equipment between consecutive feedings

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