If you’re stepping up nutrients to help calves compensate for cold environmental temperatures, that’s a good thing, says researcher Mark Hill at the Nurture Research Center, Provimi North America, Brookville, Ohio. But before you feed even that first drop of extra or enhanced milk or milk replacer, Hill says to attend to bedding first.

Research by a team led by Hill has shown that bedding type (straw better than shavings) was more effective than the amount of calories fed in supporting average daily gain (ADG) during the winter. This was true with both conventional milk replacer fed from 1.0 to 1.5 pounds of powder daily, and a high-protein milk replacer fed at 1.5 to 2.0 pounds of powder per day.

“Deep straw bedding impacts not only ADG, but calf health in a positive way,” says Hill. “It has been shown to reduce the concentration of airborne pathogens and incidence of respiratory disease and scouring in calves, compared to shallow straw, shavings or sand bedding.”

Hill provides an analogy: “Would you, personally, rather hike five miles in a snowstorm (1) wearing a good pair of boots and a good pair of insulated coveralls; or (2) wearing a good pair of boots in your birthday suit with a dozen energy bars to eat on your hike?” He concludes that both bedding and nutrition are important, but winter housing trumps feeding.

Read more of the team’s comments on winter feeding, bedding and amino acids.