When the weather turns cold, it is natural for farmers to add on the extra layer of clothing. However, the dairy producer goes one-step further by adding an extra layer of protection to his calves.
Dairy producers like John Schoen know how hard it is to keep calves warm in fluctuating Missouri winter temperatures. He use both jackets, covered barn, and deep straw bedding to keep his calves warm during cold Missouri winters at his 200-cow dairy operation near Oak Ridge, Mo.
As the temperature on the thermometer drops, Ed Denton, a calf and heifer specialist with Purina Animal Nutrition, says dairy producers start protecting calves from cold stress.
According to Denton, calves under 3 weeks of age can begin feeling cold stress much earlier than most people think. Denton notes that even at ambient temperatures of 60 degrees F and below, cold stress can hinder calf growth and performance. Cold stress can continue to affect calves over 3 weeks of age as ambient temperatures dip to 40 degrees F and below.
He offers some tips to help keep calves growing and thriving until temperatures begin to heat back up.
Use calf jackets
Calf jackets are a simple and effective tool to help calves conserve heat. Denton recommends using calf jackets on newborn calves and to continue using until they outgrow them. When using calf jackets, dairy producers should review their sanitation practices, as it is important to properly wash calf jackets between uses.
Maintain dry and deep straw beds
A deep straw bed can help calves' ability to nest and conserve heat. Calf pens and hutches should always be clean and dry, notes Denton. A quick way to test whether or not bedding is dry is the knee test. If you put your knee down and it stays dry, your bedding is dry enough. If not, it is time to re-bed.~~~PAGE_BREAK_HERE~~~
Offer consistent nutrition, formulated for cooler weather
Feeding calves a higher plane of nutrition, formulated for the season is particularly important as temperatures begin to drop. Denton recommends dairy producers feed calves 2.5 pounds of calf milk replacer powder per day to ensure that calves are receiving enough energy.
He also suggests a three times per day feeding program (8-hour increments) to allow for more balanced energy intake and availability.
Offer plenty of fresh, warm water
During heat stress periods, providing calves with extra water is essential. But dairy producers can underestimate the level of dehydration associated with the lower relative humidity and dry air brought on by colder weather, Denton says. He recommends feeding calves warm water between 101 to 102 degrees F. Water temperature becomes increasingly important in cold weather. Cold water forces calves to use extra energy to heat the water up to their core body temperature post-consumption.
Provide a draft-free environment
In warm weather, drafts can keep calves cool, but when the air cools, cold air drafts promote body heat loss. Body heat loss requires calves to allocate more energy towards body temperature maintenance and thus limits energy available for growth. A simple way to check for drafts is with your bare hand. If you feel more than slight air movement, a draft could be present.
Maintaining optimal calf growth and health can be a delicate balance. Cold weather adds stress for both calves and dairy producers. Taking a proactive stance in keeping calves' energy levels up, stress levels down and facilities up to par can help your calves avoid winter growth slumps so that they can keep growing and gaining and enter the lactating herd sooner.