Editor’s note: This tip was provided by the Dairy Calf and Heifer Association.

Just as we like to nestle under our down comforters in winter, calves like to "nest" in their bedding as well. It is important to provide adequate nesting materials for young calves to decrease their vulnerability to cold stress.

 Ideal temperatures for calves range between approximately 50 degrees F to 79 degrees F for newborns and between 32 degrees F to 74 degrees F for one-month old calves. Since not all calves are born in areas that have those pleasant average temperatures, some calves are exposed to cold stress during the winter months.

Plenty of nesting material will effectively stop heat loss. Deep bedding allows a calf to "nest" down in it and provide a barrier of warm air around itself, similar to our down comforters. To see how your calves' bedding materials compare:

  • A nesting score of 1 is given when the calf lies on top of the bedding with his legs exposed.
  • A nesting score of 2 is allocated when the calf nestles slightly into the bedding, but part of the legs were visible above the materials.
  • A nesting score of 3 is assigned when the calf appeared to nestle deeply into the bedding material, and its legs were not visible.

There are several types of materials used for nesting, with some performing better than others. Some of the materials provide cleaner, less hard housing options.

Studies indicate that calves housed on granite fines and sand were treated more often with antibiotics for scours. Granite fines was the hardest bedding and also the dirtiest.

Bedding from rice hulls, straw and wood shavings provided cleaner, warmer housing. Straw bedding provides the warmest housing for calves, and ammonia concentration is also lower in straw. However, coliform counts are higher in rice hulls before use and in straw after use.

To increase your calves' respiratory and overall health and reduce their exposure to cold stress this winter, provide enough bedding material for them to "nest."

Source:  Dairy Calf and Heifer Association