Help Dairy Calves Get Through the Cold Season

Calf : Cold & Heat Stress

Purina Animal Nutrition Logo

Purina Animal Nutrition

When the seasons change, dairy calves can suffer from cold stress sooner than you might think.
If you find yourself putting on an extra layer of clothes, chances are your calves are already experiencing cold stress. Even at a temperature of 60 degrees Fahrenheit, cold stress can cause calves to divert energy away from growth and immune function to regulate calf body temperature.

Keep calves growing and thriving until temperatures begin to heat back up with these tips:

The more dairy calf nutrition, the better Infographic showing impact of cold weather on dairy calves.

As temperatures decrease, energy requirements to maintain calf body temperature and growth increase. For every degree the temperature drops below 60 degrees Fahrenheit, the amount of energy needed for maintenance increases by one percent.1 Calves will use valuable energy stores if nutritional requirements aren’t met, which can lead to weight loss and a compromised immune system.
Contrary to popular belief, increasing fat levels alone in dairy calf nutrition during cooler weather will not make up for a calf’s increased energy demands. A 100 percent increase in fat alone in the diet may only yield a 12 percent increase in energy. Alternatively, a 50 percent increase in calf milk replacer powder with balanced fat and carbohydrates can generate a 50 percent increase in energy.1

Seasonal calf milk replacers are designed to meet energy needs during inclement weather. Feed dairy calves 2.5 pounds of LAND O LAKES® Cow’s Match® Cold Front® calf milk replacer per day to ensure they’re receiving enough energy.

Increase frequency of feeding dairy calves

It’s important to limit the time that calves aren’t receiving nutrition when winter weather hits. A three times per day feeding program (eight-hour increments) allows for more balanced energy intake. If typically feeding twice per day, adding a third feeding of calf milk replacer, preferably late in the evening, can help keep energy up through the night.
Increasing the amount of calf starter fed can help, too. Calves can eat as much as 200 percent more starter during winter when compared to summer. Feed calf starter in small amounts more frequently throughout the day to keep it fresh and choose a starter low in molasses to keep it from freezing. Purina® AMPLI-CALF® A.S. 22 Starter can help support calf performance, especially in cold temperatures.
Keep an eye on wintertime water intake, which will directly impact calf starter intake. Don’t underestimate the level of dehydration associated with the lower relative humidity and dry air brought on by colder weather. Feed calves warm water between 101-102 degrees F to encourage consumption.

Maintain calf body temperature

Cold drafts can result in lost body heat. Lost body heat means more energy must be channeled to help maintain the calf’s body temperature, limiting energy available for growth. Use your bare hand to check for drafts. If you feel more than slight air movement, a draft could be present.
Help dairy calves conserve heat by using deep straw bedding. Use a bedding scorecard to evaluate if calf bedding packs are deep enough based on how much of the calf’s legs show when laying down:
  • 1 – All of the legs showing
  • 2 – Half of the legs showing
  • 3 – No legs showing
A score of 1 indicates it’s time to add bedding to the pack, while a score of 3 is ideal. The “knee test” is a quick way to test if bedding is dry. If you put your knee down into bedding and it stays dry, your calf bedding is fine. If your knee comes away wet, it’s time to re-bed.
Calf jackets are also a simple, effective tool to help calves conserve heat. Use calf jackets on newborn calves and continue using until they outgrow them. Remember to adjust the straps on the jacket as calves grow.
Learn more about LAND O LAKES® Cow’s Match® Cold Front® calf milk replacer to help meet your calves’ winter nutrition needs.

1National Research Council. 2001. Nutrient Requirements of Dairy Cattle: Seventh Revised Edition, 2001. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press.