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It's that time of the year: Frostbite prevention

Progressive Dairyman Editor Peggy Coffeen Published on 12 December 2016
Calf hutches

As temperatures plummet, both people and animals exposed to the cold are at risk for frostbite. According to the Center for Disease Control, frostbite is an injury to the body caused by freezing. When conditions are right, this can happen within just minutes of exposure to the elements.

Dr. Vicky Lauer




Dr. Vicky Lauer from Animart offers a few tips for protecting baby calves and workers from the threat of frostbite. 


  • Frostbite most commonly occurs in newborn calves and targets the ears, tail and back feet. The maternity pen should be protected from wind and deeply bedded with clean straw. Hutches or calf pens also need deep bedding so the calf isn’t lying directly on frozen ground.

  • A wet calf is most vulnerable to frostbite. Licking by the cow helps dry the newborn calf and stimulates blood flow to the extremities. Some cows are disinterested in their calves though, leaving the calf covered in fluid.

    Keep a close eye on calving cows, and thoroughly dry newborn calves with bedding or towels if the mother is inattentive. Another alternative is to place calves in a warming box or room until they are completely dry.

  • Once dry, calves should wear calf jackets to maintain their core temperature. Calf ear muffs are a cute and practical option to protect delicate ears.

  • Provide sufficient colostrum to newborn calves. Colostrum has a high level of fat and protein, delivering necessary energy to stay warm. Colostrum should be fed at 105ºF to impart instant internal heat.

  • Early frostbite is challenging to detect, as cold, stiff extremities often go unnoticed. Warming the affected body parts as quickly as possible can minimize tissue damage if caught in the early stage.

    If untreated, days later the skin will become hard, leathery and shrunken, and will eventually fall off. At this point, the damage is irreversible.


  • For humans, frostbite is most common on the nose, ears, cheeks, chin, fingers and toes. Exposed skin is most at risk, but frostbite can occur anywhere if it is very cold, windy and wet. Children and the elderly are most vulnerable.

  • Keep as much skin covered as possible, and dress in multiple layers instead of one bulky layer. Layers help trap body heat, but make sure the layer closest to your skin wicks moisture away so you stay dry. Wear hats that completely cover your ears and even a face mask on really nasty days.

  • A thin pair of wicking polypropylene gloves under a thicker glove or mitten will provide excellent protection for your fingers. To keep hands dry, a larger waterproof glove can go on top.

    Wear multiple pairs of socks and remove them as soon as possible if they get damp. Hand and foot warmers work great as long as they don’t make your shoes so tight they restrict blood flow.

  • Don’t ignore the early signs of frostbite, such as cold skin that turns pale or red and may be slightly numb. Warming the affected area promptly can prevent permanent damage. end mark
Peggy Coffeen
  • Peggy Coffeen

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