Getting calves through times of variable weather

By: Brooke Vanderloop

Managing calves in stable weather is one thing, but trying to keep them from getting sick when it’s 50F during the day and 20F at night is another.

Times of transitional or variable weather (Hello March!) can really throw calves for a loop, whether they are inside or outside. Here are a few ways to help calves get through those times and decrease stress.

  • Keep them dry at all costs

This comes up time and time again, but it is of the utmost importance that you keep calves dry, especially during times of variable weather. If a calf gets damp, it may be manageable for them during the day when the sun is out, but as the temperature dips during the night, they are going to struggle to keep themselves warm. Spend extra time making sure the bedding is nice and dry to keep the dampness off the calf. Also, if you don’t have one already, invent in a humidity gauge. Humidity is just as important as air temperature!

  • Manage drafts and airflow

If your calves are inside or outside, you can still manage how much air hits them. Of course, this is much easier to do inside. If your calves are being housed indoors, they can still be greatly effected by drafts. It is essential to calf health to make sure you check the ventilation at least twice a day if the temperature is change more than 20F between day and night. Adjust curtains, louvers, and fan speeds accordingly so that your calves don’t catch a chill. When you are deciding when to adjust your ventilation, you also need to take into consider how high the humidity is in the outside air, and in your calf barn. Again, humidity is equally as important as air temperature. Humidity allows for bacterial growth and damp calves. 

  • Be sure to monitor milk feeding temperatures. 

When you are dealing with variable weather, it is very important to watch your milk temperature that is being delivered to the first and last calf. If it is 50F and you are still feeding at your winter temperature of 115F to account for the 10F drop in milk temperature from hitting a cold bucket, you could potentially be feeding that first calf milk that is 110F, which can easily cause scours! 


If you want to be consistent in milk feeding temperature that is delivered to the calf, consider creating a chart for your farm that equates outside temperature to milk temperature. That way, if its 45F outside, you know you need to mix your milk to 112F to have it delivered to the calf at 105F. 

  • Decide the proper time to remove calf jackets. 

Calves that are less than three weeks old have a thermoneutral zone of 50F – 80F. When the calf is outside of this range, she is actively burning energy to either stay warm, or cool down. Either way, you want to do your best to help them stay in that range. 


Older calves (over 30 days old) will be able to have their jackets off earlier than calves that are younger. Keep this in mind when you are deciding when you are going to remove jackets. 


Lastly, consider what you are wearing for clothing. If most days you go out and have a sweatshirt and jacket on, it’s too cold to take off the calves jackets.


REMEMBER calves aren’t working! They aren’t moving constantly like you are when you’re doing chores and working up a sweat. You have to decide how you feel when you are sedentary, not when you are moving around.  

  • Revisit cleaning and sanitation protocols.

As the weather warms up, so does the bacteria that has likely been hanging out dormant all winter. Consider doing a deep clean on all feeding equipment that may have been neglected in the cold winter months. DK-ll is a great addition to any cleaning protocol to take your calf care to the next level of clean!


There are many ways for you and your calves to be successful during times of variable weather. It needs to be part of your daily tasks to consider the temperatures, humidity, and other weather factors when the weather is quickly changing throughout spring. Consider looking into ventilation, bedding quality and dryness, when to remove calf jackets, and amp up cleaning protocols for a successful spring season. 

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