The loss of a dairy cow, let alone a dairy calf is not something any dairy producer takes lightly. But with hot weather continuously bombarding the Midwest lately, dairy calves have been under extreme heat stress.
The Wisconsin Department of Agriculture Trade and Consumer Protection and the Wisconsin Veterinary Diagnostic Laboratory recently reported that the number of dairy calf deaths due to heat has been on the rise. Officials indicate that heat-stressed calves are dying in one of two ways this summer: the calves’ immune systems have been weakened by heat stress and they then die from a bacterial infection or they become dehydrated and die from heat stroke.
Although recent rain showers have provided the Midwest with a brief respite from the heat, the National Weather Service Climate Prediction Center is projecting the hot and dry weather patterns to continue over the next three months. To pre-empt the impact hot weather can have on calves and to provide them with better protection, it’s important for producers to pay special attention to calf management and housing.
When looking to prevent heat stress in calves, ventilation is key. “Ventilation of the calf hutches is crucial during the summer months,” explains Skipper Carlisle, calf housing specialist with Calf-Tel. “Calf hutches should be placed in open areas for adequate air movement. If hutches are located in a confined area, air movement may be restricted and calves can suffer.”
Carlisle adds that opaque polyethylene calf hutches provide extra protection to the calf as they completely prevent the sun’s rays from penetrating the hutch, keeping the calf protected during the warmer part of the days. Research from the University of Florida confirms that polyethylene calf hutches are cooler during both the coolest and hottest parts of the day.
Additional tips on keeping calves cool include: propping the back of the hutch up to allow extra air movement inside the hutch and installing a shade over the calf hutches. If using a shade, make sure the shade is high enough above the hutches so it does not restrict air flow. Bedding with sand is another option to help keep calves cool.
“Calves require special attention – especially during the summer,” Carlisle reminds. “Remember, calf housing not set up for summer can be deadly for you calves. As temperatures continue to break records, keeping your calves in cool, well-ventilated areas will benefit the future or your operation.”