Reduce cold stress in calves and lactating cows |

Reduce cold stress in calves and lactating cows

As temperatures continue to drop, dairy and beef cattle and their offspring are at increased risk for cold stress, said Maristela Rovai, Assistant Professor & SDSU Extension Dairy Specialist.

“With daytime temperatures in the double digits below zero for next week, Dairy producers should be prepared for cold weather conditions that can affect young stock and lactating cows,” Rovai said.

Lactating cows that are adequately fed should withstand cold conditions provided they are kept dry and not exposed directly to winds. Keep the housing area dry and free of manure and provide ample supply of dry clean bedding daily.

Colostrum’s role in calves’ survival

The survival rates for calves that become exposed to cold temperatures and don’t immediately ingest colostrum are low. “Calves need colostrum for energy and antibodies to protect against the cold and possible future diseases,” Rovai explained.

Rovai added that a calf’s ability to absorb antibodies from colostrum diminishes as its body temperature becomes colder. “It’s really important to feed calves within the 1 to 2 hours after being born and still warm to assure optimum colostrum absorption. In cold weather, their body temperatures will drop faster,” she said.

Colostrum has important amount of antibodies IgG (Immunoglobulin G) andalso has higher levels of fat and protein than regular milk. These milk components will be key in protecting the calf from the cold temperatures. Remember, a newborn calf’s temperature is about 103 degrees Fahrenheit. If it drops below 100 degrees Fahrenheit it needs immediate care and warming,” Rovai said.

The colostrum, milk replacer or homogenized milk as needed should be provided by bottle or tube. Recommendations say to feed at least a quart. If the calf is too cold to suck the bottle, use the appropriate feeding hoses. You must re-check the calf to ensure the body temperature is rising.

Teat health

Rovai noted that teat skin chapping (frostbite) can become a problem in lactating cows during cold, windy weather. “Chapping makes the teat more susceptible to bacterial infections, particularly Staphylococcus,” she said.

Recent research indicates teat dipping should be continued during cold windy days. Pre- and post-milking teat dips should include skin conditioners like glycerin and lanolin.

Producers should dry teats and udders effectively. Cows should not be turned outside on cold and windy days until the teat dip has dried for 1 minute. Rovai also pointed out the cold weather guidelines from the National Mastitis Council. They include:

In very cold weather it may be advisable to dip just the teat end.

When teats are dipped, dip only the end and blot off any excess with a single-use paper towel.

Teats should be dry before turning cows out of the barn.

Warming the teat dip reduces drying time.

Windbreaks in outside holding areas provide some protection.

Fresh cows with swollen udders are more susceptible to chapping.

“Always remember that prevention is the key,” Rovai said.

Remember mastitis is a possible outcome during winter as well, and the cows affected will have to be monitored closely. If injury has already occurred, skin chapping and loss of at least the teat end is likely. When the teat end is damaged, the sphincter that closes the teat canal is also non-functional, predisposing the quarter to bacterial invasion.

More on calves and cold stress

When it comes to caring for calves, Tracey Erickson, SDSU Extension Dairy Field Specialist reminded producers that cold stress starts in calves at 60 degrees Fahrenheit in calves less than 21 days of age or if the temperature drops below 42 degrees Fahrenheit in calves greater than 42 days of age.

“Obviously, we are experiencing some serious cold stress right now,” Erickson said.

Some tips to care for calves as well as mature cattle that she shares with dairy cattle producers are as follows:

Get them off to a good start in the first 48 hours of life – following proper protocols for newborn calves, especially drying them off as quickly as possible after birth and making sure they are consuming 4 quarts of high quality colostrum within the first 12 hours of life, as well as giving proper vaccinations, and dipping their navels.

Consider using a calf warmer to quickly dry newborn calves and help increase body temperature.

Deep & Dry bedding. Provide a proper nest; when they are laying down a guide is that one should not be able to see the feet & legs of the calf.

Calf blankets – even though they add extra expense, they are reusable and provide an extra layer of protection for calves. Make sure to adequately clean and dry blankets between uses.

Proper ventilation is important but you must also prevent direct drafts from hitting young calves. Fresh air helps reduce the presence airborne pathogens and ammonia that is produced by urine & manure.

Additional feedings per day – Increasing feedings per day which will provide 1.5 pounds to 2.25 pounds of milk replacer powder per day with 20 percent fat are necessary to provide adequate energy intake daily.

When it is extremely cold feed 0.25 pounds per day of additional 60 percent fat supplement in the milk during the first 14 days of life. Many commercial products are available. Taper off feeding the supplement slowly as they start to consume starter

Be consistent in feeding times, making sure milk is warm but yet does not scald the calves’ mouth.

Other options of increasing caloric intake. Provide warm water above 102 degrees F about 30 minutes after feeding. Water is essential to start and keep the digestive track of the calf working properly, along with promoting dry matter intake. Again, remember, be careful not to get it too hot though and scald the calves’ mouth.

Provide a high quality, fresh starter daily (free of mold and fines), to encourage daily intake.

Lastly, producers/employees should take care of themselves so they can be vigilant and observant as they care for the animals.

–SDSU Extension