USDA research shows just how important it is to keep calves dry in cold weather.

The study took place at the NationalAnimalDiseaseCenter in Ames, Iowa. Researchers housed 29 calves in controlled environments at either cold (35-degree F) or warm (59-degree F) temperatures for seven weeks. In the cold housing, both the environment and the calves were frequently wetted to maximize the impact of cold temperatures, and more accurately replicate on-farm conditions. All calves were fed identical diets.

The research team found that the cold-environment calves experienced greater incidence of respiratory disease, but no significant difference in growth rates. They did, however, consume more starter during weeks five to seven, and showed mild negative-energy balance based on laboratory blood evaluation.

Some of the keys to helping calves survive cold weather are providing fresh, free-choice starter and clean, unfrozen water; keeping them dry; and avoiding exposure to drafts, says Brian Nonnecke, microbiologist at the USDA facility.