Tag Archives: cold stress

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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It’s Cold Out There

Even though the temperatures are above freezing already this morning, at a whole 32 degrees…It sure hasn’t been that way for the past two or three days.

On Friday, we got hit with extremely high winds with some gusts over 40 mph and snow. I don’t mind the snow. I actually think it’s good to get some snow. Especially when the ground is already so saturated from all of this strange weather we have had this year. Buffalo, which is about a three hour drive from here, is 40 inches below their average snow fall accumulations for this season. We have had more rain than I can ever recall and there have been days in January that have days in the 40-50 degree marks.

January 13th, 2012

But on Saturday, the thermometer decided to plunge. It was 9 degrees out there when Mr. Farmer went out to do morning chores.

He had a few problems getting out little milking pump started but, everything else went alright. No frozen water lines, no cold animals and no sludge for oil like I had yesterday morning when I went out.

Sunday morning brought a headache, sore muscle and stress. One of our calves got cold stress. Cold stress in a calf is very dangerous. It is actually a form of hypothermia. The poor girl was our there shaking like a leaf in the breeze. She wouldn’t eat or drink. Having to bottle/force feed a five month old animal isn’t the easiest thing in the world. I didn’t want her to get dehydrated and I also know that giving her warm liquids is a good way to warm her up from the inside out.

After discovering that my girl was so cold. I decided to take a peek at the thermometer again. It turned out to be a big mistake when I pulled it up on my truck when I was headed to go pick up our weekly feed.

Just a little chilly out there

After the half hour feed trip, I had to work on getting the water lines unthawed. During all that, I had to keep checking on the heifer calf, making trips to the house to warm up blankets for her. Then the milker pump needed fixing. Mr. Farmer put on a different motor, cleaned it all up and warmed the oil (which turned out to be the only issue).

Then we cut firewood due to the fact that we were burning through lots of extra. All of those winds seemed to find yet more cracks in the walls of the house. At one point, the whole house was at 51 degrees. Thankfully, we didn’t have any frozen lines. We built a fire in the fireplace for added warmth but only ended up with temps around 60.

The chickens stayed nice and toasty inside of the chicken barn with their heat lamps. Believe it or not…they actually ALL laid an egg yesterday too. That was a whole boat load of eggs and more than my poor little bag could handle. I had eggs in my coat pockets, the front pouch on my hoodie and a couple in my hat along with the one’s in the bag as I raced hatless to the house! 45 eggs in total.

Old barn

My fingers and toes still hurt from frost bite but things are looking better for the time being. I guess that eventually, we will all pull through this and be alright. At least, I sure hope so. And here I was hoping for a better, even start to 2012. So far, everything has been full of severe swings of ups and downs…one positive thing, it has to get better from here!

Hope you are all staying warm and dry. God bless.