There is much evidence and economic incentive to increase calf feeding rates during the winter. Remind yourself and your calf caregivers of these four reasons to increase a calf’s nutrient intake during the colder months:

  • Surface area. Calves lose body heat much more quickly than larger animals because they have a larger surface area. “The smaller the calf, the more important this relationship becomes,” adds Bob James, extension dairy scientist at Virginia Tech. “Virginia Tech research revealed that small calves, such as Jerseys, had a maintenance requirement which was at least 15 percent higher than large breed calves such as Holsteins,” James says in the January/February 2012 Virginia Tech Dairy Pipeline.
  • Environmental stress. During the winter, calves require dry, deep bedding to help them maintain the insulating capabilities of their hair coat. A wet environment with limited bedding greatly enhances heat loss and increases a calf’s nutrient needs.
  • Body fat. Calves are born with relatively low reserves of body fat so they do not have as much to mobilize during periods of low energy intake or environmental stress.
  • Nutritional stress. Most calves are fed equal amounts of milk or milk replacer in the morning and again in the late afternoon or evening. “Imagine the nutritional stress calves face during the long interval between the evening and morning feeding when the temperature drops at night,” James says.

According to guidelines in the Gold Standards III, it is necessary to provide enough milk or milk replacer to pre-weaned calves during the winter to meet or exceed growth goals defined in the Gold Standards I.

“Feeding management must change to enable calves to grow and resist digestive and respiratory disease,” James says. “Don’t skimp on liquid feeding programs, especially during the first weeks of life when calf starter intake is low.”

Feeding less than 1.5 gallons of milk or milk replacer daily (12.5 percent to 15 percent solids), or using a poor-quality milk replacer, may reduce feed cost but also can substantially increase treatment cost, mortality and restrict lifetime performance.

For more advice on calf feeding and growth goals, please see the Gold Standards I and Gold Standards III.

This tip from the Dairy Calf & Heifer Association is funded by the Beef Checkoff.