Gear Up Your Calves For Winter

Posted on November 13, 2012 in Starting Strong - Calf Care
By Ann Hoskins, calf products coordinator
As we talked about in Calf Chat, it’s time to get out your winter gear and re-establish your winter protocols. Although we’re a few weeks away from implementing all of the winter protocols, temperatures are dropping fast and it’s better to be ready than scramble at the last minute.
Maternity and newborn pens
Let’s start in the maternity area. Move calves from the calving pen and use clean towels to vigorously dry them as fast as you can. Then place them in a well-bedded area until they dry completely. If you are using heat lamps, be sure they are safe and not so hot they could burn the calf.
Ideally, you want the calf dry and in a hutch within 12 hours of birth. If you use a warmer, it’s a much quicker process and the calf should be in a hutch within a few hours. Remember, using heat is a great option to get the calf dry and warm, but too much exposure makes the transition back to cold temperatures hard on the calf. Plus, bacteria thrive in warm places, so make sure you are cleaning these pens often.
Newborn calves are particularly vulnerable to temperature changes. The newborn calf has a thermoneutral zone that falls between 55 and 77 degrees F. Within this range, the animal doesn’t have to dissipate or conserve heat to maintain body temperature.
However, when the ambient temperature drops below 55 degrees F, newborn calves need to expend extra energy to maintain body temperature. Calves need an estimated 32 percent extra energy with temperatures between 25 and 55 degrees F for maintenance alone. This does not account for growth and proper immune function.
Several options can increase energy in the milk diet:
  • Feed more of your current milk ration
  • Increase solids
  • Add fat
Each of these options comes with pros and cons and should be evaluated in-depth. Talk through the options with your Vita Plus representative and pick the one that works best for your farm. No matter which option you choose, consistency is the key to success as winter feeding protocols start in November and continue into March.
Water is always an important part of the calf’s diet in addition to milk and starter. Feed water at room temperature shortly after milk and dump the pails before they freeze. Research shows feeding water stimulates starter intake.
By now, I hope you have switched back to straw or other bedding that provides good nesting. Bedding should be deep and fluffy, allowing the calf to nest and conserve energy. When she lies down, at least two-thirds of her legs should be hidden in the bedding. Bedding should also be dry. Use the knee test to make sure you’re meeting that goal.
Calf jackets
It’s time pull out your calf jackets to make sure they are clean and in good condition. Check to make sure the Velcro and clips are working properly. Make sure you have enough jackets for all calves younger than three weeks. Make sure the calf is dry before you put on the jacket; a jacket on a wet calf holds the moisture and chills the calf.
The rule of thumb is to keep the calf jacket on until the calf is consuming grain regularly, usually at about three weeks. As it grows, adjust the straps to allow for the bigger animal.
These are just a few key areas to focus on when looking at your winter protocols. It is always good to do a complete evaluation of your program and figure out what tweaks need to be made for winter.
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 calves to bloat or go off feed.
  • Calves need access to fresh, clean, warm water starting at day 3.
  • Offer fresh starter daily at day 3.
  • House calves in a clean, draft-free, dry and well-bedded environment.
  • Bed calves with a 12-inch layer of long straw to allow nesting.
  • Use calf jackets for calves younger than three weeks.
  • Clean, sanitize and dry feeding equipment between consecutive feedings.

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