Top 9 Cool Weather Calf Needs – Dr. Noah Litherland, Vita Plus

Posted on February 26, 2015 in Starting Strong - Calf Care
By Dr. Noah Litherland, Vita Plus dairy youngstock technical specialist
As February draws to a close, we’re optimistic that warmer spring months are just around the corner.  But, realistically, we may still deal with a few more weeks of winter.  Here’s a quick reminder of the top calf needs in cool weather:

  • Haircoat

The calf’s hair coat works as an insulator by trapping air and creating a boundary between the body and the cool ambient air.  Towel-drying calves aids in fluffing this hair coat.  Pay special attention to drying the ears as this will reduce the risk of frost damage.

Towels will also help keep employees dry and clean when picking up the newborn for transport from the calving pen.

  • Warming boxes

Many producers have built warming boxes to finish the drying process and keep calves warm with an ambient temperature above 60 degrees F during the first 12 hours of life.  It’s important to note that calves receiving supportive warming therapy after birth will have less stress and, as a result, will likely have greater efficiency of immunoglobulin absorption from colostrum.

However, calf boxes must be kept very clean to reduce the disease pressure and they should be cleaned and sanitized between calves.

  • Calf jackets

Although the days might feel warmer, newborn calves should keep their calf jackets until temperatures are consistently above freezing.  For older calves, when the weather warms, make sure you take off the jackets or calves may sweat beneath them, potentially leading to health challenges.

  • Bedding

Clean, deep bedding is important for hutches and indoor pens alike.  A hutch should be bedded with at least one bale or 60 pounds of straw.  Keep an eye on the weather and add extra bedding to make sure calves have a dry, warm place to rest.

  • Milk feedings

Caloric demand for maintenance rises as the temperature drops, which leaves fewer calories available for growth.  Strategies to elevate caloric intake during cold stress include:

  • Boost milk feeding volume (typically by one-third)
  • Feed milk more frequently (shift from two to three feedings daily)
  • Elevate energy intake by adding 2 to 6 ounces of supplemental fat per calf per day
  • Starter

Encourage grain intake by feeding a high-quality starter and make sure it is within the calf’s reach.  Follow the “Rule of 10,” which states that the inside of the bottom of the starter grain bucket should be no more than 10 inches above the calf’s hooves.

  • Water

Regardless of the temperature, offer warm, fresh drinking water to calves after the milk feeding.  Feed water amounts so preweaned calves consume all of their water prior to the next feeding and so that weaned calves always have water in front of them.  Reduce your risk of ice slips and falls during cold spells by collecting water refusals and disposing of them away from the hutches.

  • Water heater

A large hot water heater in the calf barn can help you meet your water feeding needs and allow for more consistent milk replacer mixing.  Remember that the milk temperature at feeding should be around 105 degrees F.  Some producers will simply cover milk bottles with a sleeping bag for insulation during the trip to calf hutches.

  • Clipboard

Finally, monitor and track calf growth and health.  This will help you identify bottlenecks and troubleshoot challenges.  Excellent management during cool weather will allow calves to overcome cold stress and continue to grow at targeted rates.

This article was adapted from Dr. Noah Litherland’s December 2014 article for Hoard’s Dairyman titled “Calves can thrive in winter.”

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