An actual calf shelter may not even be needed, but instead just a place where calves can get away from the mud and muck stirred up by the cows. Hilton had a client in practice who would put a single-strand electric wire up in the corner of each calving paddock so the calves could walk under it. “This would allow the calves to have an area away from the cows that never got muddy. The calf huts were used the first couple of weeks of the calving season in case there was inclement weather, but after that no shelter was provided. The corner ‘calf club house’ was used in each calving paddock until the cows and calves went to pasture.”
Hilton adds that if the producer has more than one cow, he should use some form of the Sandhills Calving System that can reduce transmission of diarrhea-causing pathogens to newborn calves in the herd. “It is one of the best innovations in the beef industry in years.”
Hilton says the real question we need to ask is why are we calving in inclement weather in the first place? “I know in some parts of the country we calve a bit earlier than we would like so we can get the majority of breeding done in weather that is more conducive to the bull’s libido. Our bulls that were supposed to be breeding cows from the middle of July through the middle of August this past year were likely doing very little breeding.”
Caring for the weak calf
Though it may not be possible in large calving herds, if your producers can give individual attention to calves when needed, there are some strategies Hilton suggests. If you find a calf that you think is really chilled, Hilton says take its temperature first. A temperature of about 94-100°F is mild-to-moderate hypothermia. “You can likely raise the calf’s internal temperature by feeding him two quarts of some warm colostrum or milk. Blowing some warm air on him and placing him inside the barn or house and letting him breath in some warm air from a heater can also facilitate warmth.”
If his temperature is below 94°F, that is severe hypothermia and the best way to warm the calf is immersion in warm (105–108°F) water. “Keep warming the water and remove the calf when his temperature is 100°F, then dry him off vigorously with a towel and use a hair dryer to dry him completely, being sure to get all skin surfaces,” Hilton says. “These calves should also get warm colostrum or milk.”
Having colostrum or milk on-hand for calves needing assistance at birth can pay off in getting them off to a good start. Hilton uses the “2x6 and 4x12” rule of thumb – two-quarts by 6 hours of age and four quarts by 12 hours of age.