6 Winter Dairy Calf Management Coniderations

Nov 30, 2020


Tara Ellerman
Nutrition and Consulting Professional

Getting calves of to a great start is a very important part of dairy management. Afterall, the heifers are the future of dairies. As winter temperatures start to drop there are many factors to consider in keeping calves warm, growing, and healthy:

1) Nutrition

Nutritional requirements increase significantly for calves in cold stress. Fortunately, there are a few ways to help calves handle the stress and demand of cold weather:

Milk replacer is the main source of nutrients in young dairy calves. With the increased energy demand to keep a calf warm, you need to increase the energy delivered to the calf through milk replacer. This can be achieved by increasing the number of times a calf is fed per day, or by feeding larger quantities of liquid milk at a time. If you decide to feed more milk per feeding, make sure the added powder is diluted with more water to avoid problems with bloat and dehydration. Making sure to offer a milk replacer with a higher fat content can also help with cold stress.

Calf starter is another source of energy for young calves. Once calves are regularly eating calf starter, it is common to see intakes increase by 200% in cold weather! Not only is this providing more energy, it stimulates rumen development and encourage rumination, which generates heat.

2) Colostrum

Providing calves with adequate amounts of high-quality colostrum is very important for immunity, growth, and general lifetime health. It is recommended to feed 10 % of a calf’s body weight within the first hour of life and 15% of a calf’s body weight in colostrum within 24-hours of birth. This is important year-round, but, especially important when cold stress is expected.

3) Water

Water is the most important nutrient we can provide animals, it helps with digestion, hydration, and rumen development. Be sure to offer clean, warm water to calves in the winter. Warm water (101 – 102 degrees F) reduces the energy needed to maintain body temperature in cold temperatures and encourages higher water intake.

4) Ventilation in Housing

As temperatures decrease, there are many measures you can take to reduce cold stress no matter how calves are housed. As you implement strategies to reduce drafts, don’t overlook proper ventilation! We want calves to stay warm but reducing air flow too much can lead to respiratory problems from stale air.

5) Bedding

Maintaining clean, dry bedding is important to keeping calves warm and comfortable. Use the knee test to see if bedding needs changed. If you can kneel in the bedding without your pantleg getting wet your bedding is dry, if not its time to provide fresh bedding.

It is also important to provide enough bedding to calves. They should be able to “nest” instead of laying on top of the bedding. A good gauge for the amount of bedding is looking at a calf’s legs in the bedding, if you can see its legs when it is laying down, you need deeper bedding to allow the calf to create a nice warm nest!

6) Jackets

If the ground is frozen and a calf is under 21-days old, calf jackets are a great option for providing extra insulation in winter. If you are using this tool, make sure to adjust the straps weekly, and wash jackets between calves.

Talk to your Countryside Feed representative to discuss these and other steps to take in managing your dairy heifers through the winter

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