Average daily gain of calves must be kept optimal to ensure replacements entering the herd will have the opportunity to be as productive as possible.
Easing the effects of cold stress can be done through feeding and management practices. Feeding practices to counteract the energy lost maintaining body temperature will have the greatest effect.
When feeding milk or milk replacer, more milk could be fed at each feeding, or a third feeding could be introduced. If that’s not an option, many companies sell a winter blend milk replacer that is higher in fat and carbohydrates, accounting for the energy deficit created by cold temperatures.
It’s important to deliver milk as close to body temperature as possible (~102°F). This decreases the energy the calf spends to heat the ingested milk up to body temperature.
Water offered to the calf should also be delivered at this temperature and topped off multiple times a day. Increased calf starter intake also can help to ease the energy deficit in these calves.
It’s important to provide an adequate starter grain ad libitum to calves starting when the calf is two or three days old. A study conducted with the same milk replacer feeding in cold and warm environments tried to measure the effects of cold stress on calves, though calves in the cold environment had a higher starter intake than calves in the warm environment.
Consequently calves were similar in growth and immune measures. This shows that as long as calves are provided adequate nutrition during cold stress periods, the negative effects can be averted.
It’s also important to modify management practices to account for the cold temperatures. Calves should be kept warm and dry. This can be done by helping to dry calves after birth, and the use of calf coats especially on younger calves.
Bedding is very important in the calf area; it should be dry and ample enough to allow for “nesting” to help insulate calves.
If a calf’s legs can be seen while the calf is lying down, the bedding depth is not optimal and will not properly help insulate the calf in cold weather. Calf housing should allow for adequate airflow but also protection from wind and drafts, as this can greatly impact the temperature.
Calves are very susceptible to the effects of cold stress; those effects can be very detrimental to calves themselves and farm productivity as a whole. It is imperative to analyze management and feeding practices to ensure that your calves will have appropriate housing, nutrition, and management to accomplish your preweaning goals this winter.
— Sarah Williams, firstname.lastname@example.org
* References available upon request.