Calf strategies for cold weather months

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“Energy is the limiting factor to calf performance during times of cold stress, so it’s highly recommended that producers implement a feeding program that supports increased energy demand,” says Tom Earleywine, PhD, Land O’Lakes Animal Milk Products. “The first line of defense against the cold is nutrition. All of the bedding and blankets in the world can’t save a starving calf.” New seasonal formulations of milk replacer and calf starter have been developed to deliver optimal combinations of protein, energy and technologies to help during times of cold stress. The lactose in these products is designed to provide immediate energy and fat helps to build an energy reserve for the calf. Oxidation of this reserve when calves experience cold stress can be the difference between calves that thrive and ones that do not, explains Earleywine.

Regardless of the milk replacer selected, at a minimum calves should be receiving two gallons of liquid nutrition each day. In addition to meeting calves’ increased energy requirements in the winter, eight university trials show that increased intake during the first eight weeks of life resulted in improved milk production during the first lactation. If calves are fed a ‘maintenance diet’ of 1 gallon of liquid nutrition daily, they will fall behind on weight gain and be susceptible to disease.

“The long-term benefits of feeding a higher plane of nutrition are well documented and this is something dairy producers should consider year-round, not just to help calves thrive in cold weather,” adds Earleywine.

A third feeding of milk replacer can also be incorporated into the feeding program. “Incorporating a third feeding of milk replacer, preferably late in the evening, provides the extra energy young calves need,” he says.

Trials conducted at the USDA Forage Research Center by Don Sockett, DVM, PhD, with the Wisconsin Veterinary Diagnostic Laboratory, explored the benefits of feeding three times versus traditional feedings of two times daily.5 Calves were fed the same amount of milk replacer during a 24-hour period; the only difference was the number of meals – two vs. three.

Research results show that for every six calves fed three times a day, one additional heifer entered lactation. Calves fed three times per day also averaged 1,136 pounds more of milk and calved 16 days earlier which was approaching a statistical difference.

Regardless of the feeding strategy chosen, calves need more energy during the winter months. As the seasons change and temperatures dip don’t let your clients overlook calf nutrition programs.

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Winter calf care reminders

In addition to nutrition, there are a number of management steps that can be taken to help protect calves this winter:

• Feed calves three quarts of high quality (>50 mg/ml of IgG) colostrum within one hour of birth via nipple bottle, or four quarts administered by esophageal feeder within one hour of birth. A high-quality USDA approved colostrum replacement fed to provide at least 150 grams of IgG will also do the job efficiently and effectively.

• Provide milk or milk replacer as close to the calf’s body temperature (102°F) as possible. Anything below that temperature and calves have to use energy to warm the milk to their body temperature.

• Provide warm water frequently throughout the day.

• Bed often enough that bedding stays dry. Deep bedding will allow calves to nest in the bedding to stay warm.

• Implement calf jackets to provide additional protection to calves.

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