There are many things that you can do for your calves during colder weather that will benefit them greatly. Some of them you have probably heard already are:
- Keep the calves well bedded. When the calf is laying down, you shouldn’t be able to see her legs at all. This gives her the ability to properly nest into the straw to stay warm.
- Consider increasing milk fed to increase calorie intake. Increasing calories allows the calf to use those calories to stay warm.
- Use calf coats to help calves maintain body temperature.
We know you have heard those all many times before, but we would like to offer some additional suggestions to further help your calves thrive in cold weather conditions.
- Offer warm water after each feeding. Many times, water gets overlooked in the winter. People don’t see the benefit of putting water in a bucket and having to come back 4 hours later and figure out how to get a big ice cube out of a bucket that the calf didn’t drink ANY water out of. One thing to take into consideration is a calf that is 7 days old will only consume an additional 1-2 quarts of water per day. So, unless she is actively drinking the water as you are giving it to her, don’t overwater young calves. When our calves are less than 10 days old, they are offered 1 quart of water twice a day. Some will drink all of it, some will only drink half, but everyone is consuming some amount of additional water throughout the day. This is especially important if a calf is scouring. Offering warm water will encourage water intake, and also encourage feed intake, which will further help her stay warm. Water is essential during every season, but I find many people are overwatering young calves, so it feels like a tremendous waste. Consider offering warm water to each calf after every feeding, while also considering the calf’s age and health status. Water intake is essential to having healthy calves!
- Don’t forget about cleaning and sanitation during cold months. Just because it is cold, doesn’t mean that there aren’t bacteria that can survive and thrive in those temperatures. Sanitation is key to keeping calves healthy. Consider shortening up your sanitation process by adding DK-ll to your cleaning protocol. This can take your typical 5 step process down to 2 easy steps. DK-ll will help you save time, energy, and water!
3. Keep calves DRY. Drier than dry. You know how cold you get sometimes, even with all of your winter gear on. Imagine if you had to lay on a damp bed of sawdust or straw? You would be freezing. You wouldn’t want to get up to eat, drink, or do anything for that matter, and you would likely get sick as a result of that stress. Consider this when you are bedding calves. You should be more than willing to hop right into whatever laying area that you have for your calves with no questions asked. If you aren’t sure if you are bedding your calves properly, do a quick knee drop test to be sure. If you kneel in the bedding and your knees are wet, you need more bedding!
4. Manage calf blankets properly. Before putting a blanket on a new calf, she needs to be clean and dry and so does the blanket. Putting a blanket on a wet calf is just going to hold moisture and not allow her to properly dry. Make sure blankets are being washed and sanitized between each use. You also need to make sure that blankets are staying clean and dry. If a calf gets wet for some reason, or if she has scours and gets her blanket covered in it, it is in her best interest to exchange that blanket for a new, clean one. Lastly, you need to make sure that the blankets are in working condition. All buckles and straps need to be secure and in working order. Calves can and will find any way possible to get stuck, tangled, and twisted up in something, so just double-check that your calf blankets are in good condition before using them!
5. Check your first and last bucket or bottle temperature to be sure you are delivering warm milk (over 100*F) to every calf. You can lose as much as 10*F by putting milk into a cold bucket or bottle. Keep that in mind as the weather starts to become cooler!
Each farm is unique, and these tips may or may not work well for you and your calves. But if you are looking to step up your winter calf care game, consider adding some of these suggestions into your calf program. The difference you see will be worth it!