7 Tips to Jumpstart Your Cold Weather Calf Feeding Program

7 Tips to Jumpstart Your Cold Weather Calf Feeding Program

Megan Wildman

Calf and Heifer Specialist at Purnia Animal Nutrition

Latest posts by Megan Wildman (see all)

Cooler days and nights may have the thought of winter creeping into your mind. While 60 degrees F. is comfortable for us, calves fewer than three weeks old experience cold stress at this temperature. This can reduce growth and performance.

For happy, healthy calves all fall and winter long, use these tips to jumpstart your cold weather calf feeding program.

INCREASE NUTRITION LEVELS

Calves spend more energy staying warm in winter. Increasing nutrition levels will ensure calves have enough total energy to maintain body condition and continue growing.

If calves are growing well through the summer and fall, they’ll be better equipped to handle challenges in winter. All year long, feed calves a full potential diet of at least 2.5 pounds of milk solids from 8–10 quarts of milk or milk replacer per calf, per day to help calves prepare for winter weather.

Adding a third feeding is another beneficial way to increase nutrition when temperatures drop. If you’re already feeding three times a day, increase the volume at each feeding. Don’t just add water to increase the volume. Keep the solids concentration the same and bump up the total volume of solution for proper nutrition.

TRANSITION TO A SEASONAL MILK REPLACER

Using different milk replacers for winter and summer seasons helps calves meet different seasonal energy requirements. Feeding a winter-specific milk replacer helps calves handle cold stress, maintain body condition, and meet increased energy needs.

Total energy is the most crucial factor to consider when choosing a seasonal milk replacer. To maximize energy levels, look for a winter milk replacer with 20 percent fat and at least 26 percent protein.

KEEP STARTER FRESH

Monitor starter intake closely as the season changes—it can increase as much as 200 percent in winter. It’s a balancing act of providing enough starter to prevent empty buckets, yet keeping starter fresh and avoiding 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 calves and can cause the starter to freeze into unpalatable chunks.

AVOID FROZEN BUCKETS

Water is equally as important in cold temperatures as it is in the summer heat. Dry winter air can dehydrate calves. Providing an adequate water supply helps keep calves hydrated and boosts starter intake to support growth.

Offer water to calves immediately after each milk feeding and let them drink as much as they want. Make sure water is 100 to 105 degrees Fahrenheit to reduce the amount of energy needed for a calf to get the water to its core body temperature. To avoid frozen buckets, remove excess water from buckets after feeding.

USE CALF JACKETS

Calf jackets are a simple and effective tool to help calves conserve heat. Use calf jackets on newborn calves until they outgrow them. It is important to establish protocols and train employees to properly wash and sanitize calf jackets between uses to avoid germ-contamination between calves.

MAINTAIN DEEP, DRY STRAW BEDS

A deep straw bed can help calves nest and conserve heat. Calf pens and hutches should always be clean and dry. Use the knee test for a quick way to test bedding. If you put your knee down and it stays dry, the bedding doesn’t need to change. However, if your knees become wet it is time to re-bed.

PROVIDE A DRAFT-FREE ENVIRONMENT

In warm weather, drafts can keep calves cool. When the air cools, frigid drafts cause body heat loss, which means calves must use more energy to maintain body temperature and have less energy available for growth. Check for drafts with your bare hand. You should feel no more than a slight air movement. Work with your team to determine the best solution to minimize drafts.

Preparing calves early for seasonal changes is the best way to keep them growing, healthy, and happy. For additional questions, contact your local young animal expert.