Focus on four areas to ensure calves grow and thrive in cold weather

Milk Products
Winter is here! What can you do to support your young herd?

CHILTON — Farmer’s Almanac is calling for an extra chilly winter. While you’re breaking out the long johns, stocking caps and gloves, what are you doing to prepare your calves for the coldest time of the year?

“As temperatures dip below 60 degrees Fahrenheit, young calves can experience cold stress,” says Julian (Skip) Olson, DVM, technical services manager for Milk Products. “By planning now, you can help your calves transition to winter with ease.”

Focus on these four areas as you prepare for winter:

Provide a clean, dry environment

Proper bedding is one way to ensure calves are equipped to handle dropping temperatures.

“Take extra care to maintain bedding when the weather shifts,” says Olson. “Mixing wood shavings and straw can help keep calves dry and clean. Adding a layer of sawdust underneath bedding is another option to help absorb moisture and protect calves from the cold ground. Bottom line – calves need fluffy, deep bedding that is clean and dry so they can nestle down into it without coming in contact with the cold floor or ground.”

Stock up on bedding to ensure you have plenty on hand, especially if you live in an extra snowy or cold location. Calf jackets are another way to help calves regulate their body temperature in cold weather.

“Calf jackets serve as a barrier between the calf and wet bedding or cold air, which means the calf can focus on growing rather than staying warm,” says Olson. “Remember to adjust jacket straps as the calf grows so the jacket fits well.”

Prepare for the arrival of new calves

Whether you’re calving on your farm or buying calves, have a plan in place for the arrival of new calves.

“If you plan to calve on your farm, keep colostrum replacer on hand to help ensure newborn calves get off to a strong start if maternal colostrum may not be available,” says Olson.

A colostrum replacer can be thought of as an emergency product than can be fed when a calf is unable to nurse or when maternal colostrum is unavailable. Keep in mind colostrum should be bottle fed within two hours after birth – when the calf’s intestines are best equipped to absorb these critical nutrients. If a calf is not able or willing to nurse, use an esophageal feeder without delay.

As temperatures dip below 60 degrees Fahrenheit, young calves can experience cold stress.

If you buy calves and transport them to your farm, make sure the calf’s transition is a smooth as possible.

“Electrolytes are a great option to help keep calves hydrated,” says Olson. “Consider using electrolytes during other periods of stress like after transport, temperature fluctuations, environment changes, dehorning, vaccination or weaning. This is especially important as calves don’t eat as well after these high-stress events.”

Offer extra calories

In cold weather, calves’ energy demands increase requiring them to consume more calories.

“Choose a milk replacer specifically formulated for calves, and consider adding a third milk replacer feeding when conditions call for it,” says Olson. “If you’re unable to add a third feeding, considerincreasing the volume of milk replacer you feed.”

Calves thrive on routine, so it is best to feed them milk at the same time every day, preferably morning and evening. Strive to feed at equal intervals.

“Calves can benefit from starter intake during cold weather so don’t forget to keep the starter fresh and available,” says Olson. “For weaned calves, make sure you’re still supplementing additional calories through starter grain and hay.”

Maintain a fresh, clean water source

Fresh, clean water is crucial for calf development.

“Calves on milk should receive fresh water after each feeding,” says Olson. “They will drink water shortly after milk so provide water before the calf lies down. You want to give them every opportunity to drink water before it freezes. For weaned calves, check their water source often to make sure it doesn’t freeze.”

If you don’t have heated waterers, heated water buckets or water heaters are options to prevent water from freezing. Use extra caution to ensure cords are out of reach for your calves.

As the weather turns colder and you start wearing more clothes to stay warm, keep your calves in mind. Remember, calves can experience cold stress as temperatures drop below 50-60 degrees Fahrenheit. By managing calf housing, preparing for new calves, offering extra calories and fresh water, you can help keep calves growing and healthy.

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Milk Products, based in Chilton, Wis., manufacturers high-quality animal milk replacers and young animal health products.