As the temperature outside decreases, calf energy needs will increase. A calf’s normal body temperature is 101.5 degrees F. The thermoneutral zone is 50 to 68 degrees F; this is when the amount of heat produced by the calf is in balance with the amount of heat lost to the environment. As temperatures drop below 50 degrees, calves need extra energy or they will begin to burn body tissue and lose weight. As a general guideline for every degree drop below 50 degrees F a calf’s energy requirements increase 1 percent.*

Nutrition and housing are the two main factors that shouldn’t be overlooked during winter months. Here are some things to consider when preparing for colder weather:

  • Feeding your weaned calves increased starter can assist in offsetting the increased energy needs. Research shows that when calves receive adequate nutrition, they can tolerate considerable periods of cold without affecting growth. Maintenance energy requirements increase as temperatures incrementally decrease. As calves begin eating calf starter, rumen fermentation is created, which produces body heat. The sooner calves start eating starter the more they will benefit from the heat generated.
  • Always offer free choice water. In the colder months especially, providing warm water close to the calf’s body temperature after each feeding will help increase water intake, while decreasing energy needed to warm the water to the calf’s body temperature.
  • Provide enough clean and dry bedding for the calves to nestle up in. Bedding also acts as a protective barrier from windy conditions.
  • Calf blankets should be used on calves under three weeks of age. They also provide additional insulation protection when moving calves in harsher conditions.
  • Calves on milk should be fed additional milk or milk replacer, plus have additional fat intakes to offset the energy loss. Producers not currently feeding a third feeding of milk should consider the benefits of an additional feeding, preferably late in the evening to provide extra energy for young calves. 

*Reprinted with permission from Neil Broadwater, University of Minnesota Dairy Extension.

Source: Land O’Lakes Purina Feed