A calf’s body temperature often falls below normal due to a slow birth (dystocia) followed by delayed standing and nursing. In cold weather, newborns have a harder time recovering body temperature. Returning the calf’s core body temperature to normal (100° F for newborn calves) is the immediate concern, then maintaining core temperature is of secondary importance.
The two most important factors in calf survival are warmth and colostrum. Methods to warm a calf include:
- Submersion of wet calves in a warm bath-you must support the calf to prevent drowning. The water should be gradually warmed to 100° F and will need to be changed to keep it at that temperature.
- Placing calves next to a space heater.
- Placing the calf under a heat lamp-be careful to cover the lamp with a screen so the calf will not get burned as it becomes more active.
- Warm blankets-These should not be so hot that they can cause skin burns. Change the blankets as needed to maintain a consistent temperature and not allow the calf to cool off.
- Hot box or warming box-the temperature should not be so high that burns could result. Some type of venting is necessary to prevent buildup of carbon monoxide and moisture. Air movement is also important to ensure thorough warming of the calf and prevent hot spots in a warming box.
- Warm IV fluids may be administered by a veterinarian.
Once the calf has been warmed, provide colostrum and maintain body temperature. Colostrum is a concentrated source of protein, vitamins, minerals and energy and also contains antibodies to diseases or vaccines the dam has been exposed to. It may be delivered by an esophageal feeder, if necessary. Calves should be fed colostrum as soon as possible after the suckle reflex has returned-generally within the first 6 hours after birth, but ideally within 1-2 hours after birth.