holstein calf in snow

Keeping Calves Warm

by Emily Siegrist

Did you know humans aren’t the only ones that are affected by the cold temperatures? As temperatures drop and snow piles on throughout the winter months, dairy farmers work hard to ensure their baby calves are stress-free, warm and well-cared for.

When temperatures drop below a calf’s “thermoneutral zone,” calves start using internal energy reserves to maintain their core body temperature. When this happens, energy is taken away from their growth and immune function, and calves can become more susceptible to disease.

Believe it or not, a calf that is under three weeks old will start feeling cold stress at 60°F and below. Once that calf reaches three weeks of age and older, the cold stress drops to 42°F.

Dairy farmers work to compensate for the colder temperatures by adjusting their management practices to help keep calves warm and healthy.

For example, higher nutrition plays a key role in helping calves survive and continue to thrive in the winter months. Many farmers will increase from feeding twice a day to three times a day or increase the amount of milk or milk replacer that is fed.
jersey calf drinking milk from a bottleIn addition, it is also very important to provide the calves a fresh, warm water supply. This can always be challenging on freezing cold days when water likes to freeze quickly!

Farmers also provide housing like individual hutches or calf barns that are draft–free to block the wind and keep the chill off of the calves. Keeping plenty of DRY straw bedding is also crucial in keeping calves warm.

Dairy farmers work around-the-clock to keep thick and deep packs of dry straw bedding for their calves to nestle down in.
winter calvesMany farms also use calf jackets to help calves conserve heat. These are washable jackets that are fitted to go across the calf’s back and fasten around their back legs with a Velcro snap around their neck. This would be no different than people putting on their jackets before going outside!

Whether it’s chipping ice from water buckets or drying off a newborn calf, dairy farmers work very hard all winter long to prevent illness and keep the calves warm, comfortable and healthy!

Guest Blogger

Emily Siegrist

Emily Siegrist has been a been a Dairy Calf and Heifer Specialist for the past 12 years. She also works on her family’s 300-cow dairy farm in Darke County, Ohio where her three daughters enjoy helping her care for the baby calves.

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