Looking back at that situation, Leadley says though there is not a lot of information on heat stress and calves, there are some things he could have done had he known the calf’s condition. “We had two big maple trees in front of the barn, and I could have put her on the lawn in the shade, maybe dumped a couple of buckets of well water over her, given her fluids either IV or SQ.
“My point is that the calf-care team at some time needs to talk about heat stress and newborn care. That way, our awareness is higher and we give some special attention to the babies.”
Sidebar: Housing and heat mitigation
To prevent or mitigate heat stress for hutch-housed calves, the most common way is to open up the backs of hutches to capture air flow.
The second most common is to raise the rear of hutches to allow more air flow. Calf-care expert Sam Leadley, of Attica (N.Y.) Veterinary Associates, notes that concrete blocks work great for this.
“Some folks use tires, but they block a lot more of the opening than blocks do,” he adds.
Leadley has a few producers who use sand in the summer. “I think it works just fine as long as some extra is added starting around three or four weeks to keep things dry. I used to use fine crushed stone in my hutches because it was less expensive than sand in the locality where I lived.” If using organic bedding, Leadley prefers wood shavings over straw in the summer to help reduce fly populations.
Producers often have shaded spots you can suggest they move calf housing to when heat stress is at its worst. “I have a client in Georgia who starts moving his wire cages/huts from an open field where they have been since November back into the pecan groves,” Leadley says. “Under the pecan trees, they benefit from not only the shade but also from transpiration cooling from the trees.”
During times of heat stress, Leadley would try to coax calves into eating more at night by giving them fresh grain and fresh water at 6 p.m. “This worked somewhat, but that long period of inactivity between 11 a.m. and 5 p.m. just hammered starter intakes.”
Read more about mitigating dairy calf heat stress from Washington State University at http://extension.wsu.edu/vetextension/Documents/CalfHeat-StressTrial%202012.pdf.