Get Your Dairy Calf Nutrition Program Ready for Winter

Calf : Cold & Heat Stress

Animal : Calf

Tom Earleywine, Ph.D.

Director of Nutritional Services

A common misconception is it must be freezing for a dairy calf to experience cold stress. But, calves have a higher surface-area-to-bodyweight ratio than older animals, meaning they become cold-stressed at moderate temperatures. Newborn calves can experience cold stress starting at 60 degrees F and below, putting them at risk for pneumonia and calf scours.
The good news is cold stress is preventable. You may not have control over the winter weather and the punch that Mother Nature can pack, but you do have control over your dairy calf nutrition program.

Jumpstart your winter calf feeding program with increased nutrition levels, seasonal milk replacer, fresh starter and avoiding frozen buckets.Feeding Calves More Milk

If calves don’t get enough energy in their diet when temperatures drop below 60 degrees F, they’ll start to burn through their energy reserves or body fat to stay warm. Once calves start burning body fat, immune systems become depressed and are unable to fight off calf health issues. Not to mention, energy is no longer available to put towards growth and development.
Adding a third feeding (preferably late at night) is an easy way to increase dairy calf nutrition when temperatures drop. Research showed calves fed three times a day have improved growth, better feed efficiency, increased starter intake before weaning and have a higher chance of survival to lactation than calves fed twice daily.1

If you’re already feeding three times a day, increase the volume at each feeding. Keep the solids concentration the same and bump up the total volume of the solution. Feed a full potential diet of at least 2.5 pounds of milk solids from 8-12 quarts of milk or calf milk replacer per day.

Seasonal Calf Milk Replacer

Seasonal calf milk replacer formulations deliver optimal combinations of protein, energy and technologies to help during times of cold stress. Feeding a winter-specific milk replacer will help calves maintain body condition and meet increased energy needs.
Total energy is the most important factor to consider when choosing a seasonal milk replacer. To maximize energy levels, look for a milk replacer with 20 percent fat and at least 26 percent protein. Milk replacers with more than 20 percent fat can decrease growth and hinder starter intake.
Adding a fat pack can make the diet unbalanced. Calf milk replacers should be balanced for fatty acids with high levels of medium-chain triglycerides, omega-3 fatty acids and should contain L-carnitine. This helps a dairy calf break down and utilize fat as well as improve starter intake.

Calf Starter Feed Intake

Calf starter feed intake increases as much as 200 percent in cold weather, so it’s important to monitor intake closely. It’s a balancing act of providing enough starter to prevent empty buckets and keeping starter fresh by not overfeeding.
To keep starter fresh, feed smaller amounts more frequently throughout the day. Also look for a starter low in molasses. Molasses is poorly digested by a dairy calf and can cause the starter to freeze and turn into chunks, which isn’t palatable for calves and decreases intake.

Feeding Calves Water

Water is equally as important in cold temperatures as it is in summer heat. Dry winter air can dehydrate calves. Providing adequate water supply helps improve hydration and supports growth by boosting calf starter feed intake.
Offer warm water to calves immediately after each milk replacer feeding and let them drink as much as they want. Make sure water is 100 to 105 degrees Fahrenheit to avoid lowering calf body temperatures. For those feeding milk or calf milk replacer two times a day, adding a third water feeding mid-day can make a world of difference by boosting starter intake.
Don’t let dropping temperatures freeze your calves’ growth and performance. Plan your feeding program to provide the additional energy needed during these cold stress periods. LAND O LAKES® Cow’s Match® ColdFront® calf milk replacer is designed to provide the energy your calves need in cold temperatures.

1 Facts based on 2011 research: D. C. Sockett* 1, C. E. Sorenson 2, N. K. Betzold 3 , J. T. Meronek 3 , and T. J. Earleywine 4, 1 Wisconsin Veterinary Diagnostic Laboratory, University of Wisconsin, Madison, 2 United Cooperative, Sauk City, WI, USA, 3 University of Wisconsin–Madison, College of Agricultural & Life Sciences, Madison 4 Land O’Lakes Inc., Arden Hills, MN.