Extreme Weather Calf Care

All of us across the country have seen some extreme weather this year. Farms with animals have to pay extra attention under extreme heat and cold, not to mention high winds and heavy rains.

Here in Upstate NY, we aren’t facing winter colds as low on the thermometer as some of the others across the country but we are still facing morning temperatures of negative 6 and some wind chill factors.

As any person would, extra care needs to be taken to ensure safety in such extreme cold. This is one of the reason we make sure that our animals have good shelter and a warm place to rest. Cold stress in cattle is very difficult to deal with and should be monitored for.

Cold stress in cattle is just like the stress of hypothermia in a human. Treatment is very much the same. It involves slowly warming the body to get body temperatures elevated without reheating too quickly. Cold stress slows heart rates down and often makes animals very latargic. To rewarm an animal here on our farm, it involves many trips from the house to the barn; blankets being warmed in the dryer for several minutes and then tucked inside a coat to be run to the barn; it involves warm water (often electrolytes to prevent dehydration); and hours before an animal is back on it’s feet again. As you can imagine it is a very daunting task.

Calves are the most easily effected by cold stress. Without fat stores or long haired winter coats, they aren’t equipped to deal with these freezing temperatures. Calves can be stressed in temperatures at 40 degrees if the wind is blowing and there is high humidity. This is one reason why calf care is crucial. By closely monitoring how a calf acts and/or reacts to environmental conditions, you can determine a method of prevention. Many times, something as simple as a calf coat is enough to 1)block air movement and prevent body warmth from escaping and 2)provide a layer of protection against air moisture.

Adding a calf coat for cold temperatures in an attempt to keep a calf warm.

Adding a calf coat for cold temperatures in an attempt to keep a calf warm.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Paying attention to bedding is also crucial. A calf will not retain body heat if it is laying on damp or wet bedding. We pay extra close attention to this detail year round but will add extra bedding with the use of additional straw to keep them warm. Wheat or Oat straw is important to have within our bedding mixtures because straw is actually hollow. Standard hay is finer and is natural a solid “stalk”. The hollow core of the straw will absorb body heat and help retain the heat. We double load bedding area with straw during colder months to ensure that the animal is nested down inside…much like the shape of a dog bed.

What happens if the bedding and a coat aren’t enough? Sometimes we use heat lamps. The heat lamps, just like the ones used for keeping baby chicks warm, create a warm area under the lamp. Most often, this step will assist a calf from getting cold stress.

Have we had animals with cold stress? Yes, we have. Last, we had a couple of calves group housed within the main area of our barn. We provided them with thick sawdust bedding and lots of straw in one area inside the barn. Unfortunately, overnight on a sub-zero night one of the calf decided to be a jerk and keep the other calf off the bedding. Calves do get territorial from time to time and this does happen. We did not anticipate it happening with two calves over a very large area…but it did. The calf rejected from the bedding then laid down on the concrete floor. Needless to say, as she slept her body temperature dropped and continued to do so until I made my way to the barn.

After seperating the calves into different areas and getting her off the concrete floor onto good bedding…I started treatment for hypothermia. Warming blankets every 20 minutes, dribbling warm electrolytes into her mouth because she had minimal body function and a visit from the vet to make sure I was doing the right thing. The vet administered a shot of Vitamin B and told me to keep slowly warming her the way I was. Proudly, I can say that over the course of 12 hours, her body temperature elevated back to normal and she was back on her feed drinking and eating normally again. Today, she is one of my favorite girls and will be having her first calf this coming spring.

Ruby is one of the friendliest dairy heifers you could ask for

Ruby is one of the friendliest dairy heifers you could ask for

What are we doing different this year? Well, we have a calf that is just days old now hanging out with me inside. With zero fat stores, a wet and slimy newborn coat and the temperatures continuing to drop…we were keeping close watch when he started to show signs of hypothermia with uncontollable shaking that didn’t stop. Not wanting to expose him to the other cattle yet…one option remained. He is a good boy. He lays on a blanket (with an absorbtion pad much like those used for puppy training). He comes into the living room a couple times a day to jump and run around so he stays flexible. When the weather gets warmer, we will start getting him used to cooler temperatures and slowly start working him back to the barn a little more each day until he is back in the barn full time.

Is this the right way? Maybe not…but with me being unable to do some of the normal barn activities, I feel this was the best choice for his chance of survival. Personally, I rather enjoy the little guy being around. I will miss him when he goes back to the barn.

I will miss all of his "help" with paperwork

I will miss all of his “help” with paperwork

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2 thoughts on “Extreme Weather Calf Care

  1. There was more than one cold winter morning when I’d wake up and find, usually lambs, but occasionally a calf, laying in our bathtub in an attempt to keep them warm. The calves that made it into our house always seemed to turn into that summer’s 4-H project.

    • Awesome! We don’t have any kids in the house but turning to 4-H projects is a great idea! I am glad to hear I am not the only nut job that goes to this extreme :) Thanks for sharing!

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