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Ask a Vet: Cold stress in calves

Vicky Lauer for Progressive Dairy Published on 17 January 2020

Cold stress occurs when an animal expends energy to stay warm. Newborn calves are most susceptible to cold stress due to their low body fat and ratio of high surface area to body mass.

This stress increases the incidence of scours and pneumonia because calves simply don’t have the energy to both combat illness and stay warm. Cold stress begins at 60ºF for calves less than 3 weeks old. For each degree drop in temperature below 50ºF, a calf requires 1% more energy just to stay alive. Even more energy is required for growth.

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Calves in the snow

Take a few extra steps to ensure calves grow and thrive this winter.

Immediately following birth

  • Thoroughly dry the calf with towels, dry straw or a warming box.

  • Feed high-quality maternal colostrum to newborn calves within two hours of birth (1 gallon for larger breeds, 3 quarts for smaller breeds). If maternal colostrum isn’t available, feed a colostrum replacer that contains 200 grams of IgG.

  • Feed colostrum at 105ºF or warmer to provide instant heat and minimize clostridial disease.

  • Once the calf is completely dry, place a calf jacket on it to prevent heat loss.

Provide more calories

  • Offer more milk at each feeding. This keeps the feeding schedule the same but increases the amount of energy.

  • Keep the volume of milk the same but add more milk replacer powder or a fat supplement. Monitor total milk solids so they do not rise above 16% to minimize abomasal bloat.

  • Add an extra feeding during the middle of the day, with the same volume of milk at all feedings. Calves don’t necessarily have to be fed every eight hours, but the timing should be consistent (for example: 6 a.m., noon and 6 p.m.).

Other considerations

  • Deeply bed with long-stem straw so the calf can nestle into it. The calf’s entire foot and at least part of the leg should be covered with bedding to provide proper insulation.

  • Keep bedding clean and dry, as wet bedding directly robs heat from the calf.

  • Do not take scouring calves off milk as they will rapidly starve to death. end mark
Vicky Lauer
  • Vicky Lauer

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