As the season starts to change calves will begin to suffer from the cold sooner than one might think. Even at a temperature of 60 degrees F, cold stress can impact the growth and health of dairy calves.

“At temperatures of 60 degrees F we may be comfortable, but our calves start to divert energy away from growth and immune function to regulate body temperature,” says Dr. Dari Brown, director of livestock young animal marketing with Purina Animal Nutrition LLC. Calves become cold stressed at fairly moderate temperatures because they have a higher surface-area-to-bodyweight ratio than older animals.

 As temperatures decrease, energy requirements of the calf start to increase. In fact, for every degree the temperature drops below a calf’s lower critical temperature, the amount of energy needed for maintenance increases by 1 percent.

If calves don’t receive the energy they need, resources are diverted from growth. When energy is diverted from growth, calves will not gain weight and they become more susceptible to diseases like pneumonia and scours; calves also could die.

Financial losses also begin to mount from treatment costs, poor growth — which delays age at first calving — and future milk production potential.

Don’t let energy be a limiting factor to your calves’ performance this winter; instead implement a feeding program that supports these increased energy demands. Added energy can be provided to the calf by adding a third feeding of milk replacer (preferably late in the evening) and increasing the amount of starter offered.

Seasonal formulations of milk replacer are now available and calf starter will soon be available; both are designed specifically to meet the needs of calves during inclement weather.