NEW: Regional Calf Report – Central Minnesota
Posted on November 9, 2012 in Starting Strong - Calf Care
By Barry Visser, Vita Plus Dairy Technical Services
What a winter! Minnesota statistics to date would define it as the warmest on record in more than 134 years with only three sub-zero nights recorded thus far in the Twin Cities region. Last year at this time, we had received more than 60 inches of snow with several areas in Minnesota exceeding 100 inches for the season. With the exception of those with snowmobiles, most of us are enjoying this year. It has, however, presented some unique challenges to maintaining healthy calves.
The term thermoneutral zone (TNZ) is nothing new in the world of raising calves. The basic concept is to define the amount of energy needed for a calf to maintain its internal temperature between 101 to 102 degrees F regardless of the outside temperature. The TNZ is the range of temperature within which the animal uses no additional energy to maintain this internal body temperature. This low-stress environment for calves exists when temperatures range from about 50 to 80 degrees F.
Calf managers have gained a greater appreciation for the changing maintenance needs of the calf in the winter months. Winter feeding and management strategies maintain adequate weight gain and a strong immune system even when temperatures fall well below the thermoneutral zone. Depending on the calf environment and severity of the cold, strategies range from mild increases in milk replacer solids to supplementing additional fat to adding a third feeding.
The challenge this winter has been to provide enough supplemental energy to the baby calf while continuing to encourage maximum starter intakes as that calf begins to consume dry feed. Winter feeding protocols have required more modifications and tighter management this season as we’ve encountered mild temperatures. Most farms are able to make these adjustments on a daily basis.
Dialing in the proper winter feeding strategies is only part of the battle. Perhaps more challenging has been to maintain the ideal environment for the calf. Ventilation always seems to be a key topic when raising calves. To coin the phrases of those in New Mexico and Arizona, we often joke in northern Minnesota that 35 degrees F below zero doesn’t feel that cold because is a “dry cold.” This has not been the case this winter. With the mild temperatures has also come more humidity. This too has presented some ventilation challenges.
Calf facilities with more modern ventilation systems have been able to make these adjustments on the fly. Some facilities make more extensive winterizing modifications and have needed to evaluate when and where the “plywood needs to come off the walls.”
Calf jackets are a great tool to reduce maintenance cost in calves during the cold weather. Again, this mild winter has generated a few conversations about removing these jackets sooner. Many of these challenges are no different than what we deal with every spring. What makes this year unique is that we’ve had spring weather for four months already and it’s only February.