How to Care for Calves this Winter

Nesting Calf
( University of Wisconsin )

For some, winter brings the beauty of a first snow, the crackling of a cozy fire and appreciating the intricate patterns of ice left behind by Jack Frost. For dairy farmers, winter brings extra layers of smelly barn clothes, breaking endless buckets of ice and treating various cases of respiratory illnesses (for humans too.)


Winter just brings extra work on the farm in general, but there are ways to prepare your calf operation for the harsh weather that is sure to come. Here are a few articles you should check out to make sure you and the calves are ready!



Caring for calves in the winter is no easy task. It’s time to change to winter bedding, bring out the calf jackets, and consider an extra feeding to provide calves extra protection from low temperatures. 

A calf is born with only two to four percent of body weight as fat, which will not last long if she is forced to burn fat for heat production. Burning body fat for heat can lead to lower growth rates, compromised immune status, and even death. The need for straw bedding at this time of the year to provide warmth for young calves is true both in barns and in hutches. Unless the calf barn has supplemental heat, it should be well-ventilated but without drafts on the calf. It should also be within five degrees of outside temperatures, necessitating the use of straw bedding and calf jackets.



Just as winter can be a difficult season for animals, it can also be a more challenging season for you. Take an inventory of your winter clothing supplies to make sure you have enough warm clothes on hand.

When winter decides to make its debut, you’ll feel more at ease being prepared to take on whatever challenges it throws at you,” says Julian (Skip) Olson, DVM, technical services manager for Milk Products.

Read 5 Steps to Winter Farm Prep to learn more about keeping you and the calves warm!


Cold weather is not just hard on the people taking care of the animals, it can be tough on the animals themselves. In fact, winter ushers in pneumonia season. Cold weather enhances the growth of certain respiratory germs on the inside of a calf’s nose and upper respiratory tract.

The increased risk of respiratory disease following cold weather should prompt caretakers to tune in even more to the health of their calves. Early detection and treatment is important to the calf’s immediate health as well as to her long-term production. It’s important that you know not only how to treat this disease, but how to prevent it as well.



Despite all of the challenges winter brings, hang in there! The warmth of spring will eventually return!