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How to combat cold stress in the brutal temperatures.

January, 2019

“It’s the most freezing time of the year…” wait, that’s not how the lyrics go. For real, it’s bitter out there and only going to get worse. For those of you who are lucky enough to live in a place that stays “warm-ish” year-round, I’m sure it is hard to imagine what us Minnesotans endure from year to year. Although your climate may be nicer than ours, it still adjusts to the seasons and no matter where you live, cows can experience cold weather stress if the temperature drops.

TechMix calf in cold stress

 

Cold stress…what is this you speak of? Cold stress is often overlooked and occurs when the calf’s body temperature falls below thermoneutral and isn’t able to maintain normal body temperature. Typically, when temperatures drop lower than 60˚F, a calf is below its thermal neutral zone – the temperature range (60-75˚F) where a calf does not need to exert extra energy to maintain its internal body temperature.

There are many factors and conditions that can also contribute to cold stress events in livestock, other than just temperature. Wet environments, wind, and lack of shelter can all impact cold stress whether acting individually or in conjunction with one another.

 

 

When a calf experiences cold stress, they are impacted in several ways including:

  • Altering behavior
  • Using energy requirements
  • Increasing nutrient requirements
  • Contributing to changes in calf starter feed and water intakes

In extreme weather conditions, a calf’s feed intake will drop significantly because they are focused on trying to warm up and not on eating. However, more commonly, during cold stress, a calf’s energy requirements will increase resulting in increased feed and water intake needs. A calf is born with only 3-4% body fat, which means they don’t have much of a buffer. The requirements needed to both keep warm and continue growing in calves add to dietary energy requirements increasing the need for additional calories. Therefore, any interruptions resulting in insufficient caloric intake will deplete the energy that should be used for weight gain and instead use it for keeping warm. Consequently, starvation can occur, causing the calf’s body systems to shut down to try and preserve energy. As soon as the immune system shuts down, the calf becomes susceptible to more illnesses.

Here’s the big question – what can we do to help? There are a number of things that can be done to help keep calves healthy, gaining weight, and WARM in the cold weather.

First, we can increase their caloric intake to help combat the additional energy requirements. This can be done either through an additional feeding or adding more goodies to their water or milk. Keep in mind that we don’t want to increase the milk replacer to water ratio as that can lead to dehydration. TechMix has a great product for calves needing an extra boost during cold stress events, Calf Restart One-4®. Calf Restart One-4 contains electrolytes, amino acids, plasma proteins, beneficial bacterial, and multiple sources of energy in a readily digestible milk base. Woah, that’s a lot of goodies in just one easy to use product!

Be sure to provide fresh warm water shortly after each feeding. As the weather gets colder, calves prefer warmer water and can tolerate the warmer temperature. In fact, as often as feasible, give calves fresh water to help keep them hydrated and maintain digestive health. Fresh bedding is crucial year-round, but especially during the cold weather because calves like to nest in the bedding to keep warm. In order to keep them dry and reduce their vulnerability to disease, keep the bedding fresh. Calf jackets are a great option as well to keep calves warm and can be found at your local supply store.

As the temperature continues to grow colder, remember to do what you can to keep them warm and healthy. It is important to keep them warm, comfortable, provide clean, fresh water, and make sure they keep eating and drinking. If we can help prevent stress, maybe they will be singing the right lyrics to “It’s the most wonderful time of the year.”

 

 

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