Regional Report: Northern Michigan

Posted on December 26, 2017 in Starting Strong - Calf Care
By Charlie Kunisch, Vita Plus dairy & beef specialist
With the beginning of December came the beginning of winter in northern Michigan. Areas across the northern part of the state have seen upward of 12 inches of snow and temperatures dropping into the teens.  As producers dig out their calf hutches and thaw waterers, here are a few things to consider.

Coming off of an abnormally wet fall, respiratory issues will continue to be a struggling point on many farms. Producers need to work closely with their veterinarians and have well-established vaccination protocols in place. It is important that calves housed indoors are not kept in poorly ventilated conditions. Often times, barns are shut up tight to deal with the snow and cold.  While we don’t want a drafty barn, we do not want the curtains shut all the way on most days. If ventilation is an issue, several options, including positive pressure tubes, are available to address the problem.

Monitoring calving pens becomes even more important during the winter months. Calves need to be dried with clean towels as quickly as possible and moved to a warm, dry location. We need to check that calf jackets are kept clean and dry, and are readily accessible for new calves. If calves are housed outside, jackets should be used for the first three weeks of life. It is also important to ensure that jackets are correctly fitted for each calf and that they are not too tight as to cause discomfort or too loose as they will not properly warm the calves.

With winter conditions conducive to sickness, adequate first feeding colostrum consumption by calves is one of the first steps to reduce calf morbidity. During cold winter months, calves also require more energy to maintain body temperature. We may want to look at increasing milk intake or switching to a replacer with a higher solids content.

As producers continue to improve their breeding and reproduction programs, we are seeing many farms in northern Michigan struggle with overcrowding in their calf and replacement pens. This, coupled with many producers dealing with a labor shortage, creates an area of high risk in calf care. With the cold weather we are seeing, it is critical to maintain a dry environment for calves (at least 1 foot of dry, long-cut straw), which may involve cleaning pens or getting dry bedding to the calves more often.  With this oversupply of calves on many farms, it is important for producers to evaluate when it is most profitable to sell heifers. If having to deal with the ill effects of overcrowding, it may pencil out to ship calves sooner rather than later to decrease stocking density in the calf pens.

Category: Animal health
Starting Strong - Calf Care
Winter calf care