Vet’s Voice by Dr. Dave Barz: Calving in the cold requires extra effort
Wow have the past two weeks been cold! If it doesn’t get any warmer I may need a vacation. Before Christmas, several of my producers were calving in the mud. Then we got snow, wind and cold. This has made calving difficult at best.
Shelter has been very important. Most producers are penning the close ups inside to avoid the wind chills. Heifers are being calved now and they require more supervision than cows. They are much easier to check at night when they are inside than out seeking shelter from the wind and cold. Several of our producers have erected buildings which house the mama cows continually until grass. These operations have some real advantages because you can control the environment. These commercial units work well and are more efficient than large buildings which are tougher to ventilate. One secondary benefit is feed usage. Cows in these buildings require forty percent less energy in the ration than animals yarded outside.
Colostrum is very important in cold weather. If the calf is cold and chilled it will not suckle. Colostrum is an additional source of energy which allows the calf to be up and moving. This aids the calf’s circulation and keeps the calf’s extremities from getting cold and perhaps freezing. Many times the calf’s ears are the first to freeze. Loss of part of one or both ears has no detrimental effect on the calf itself. If you are marketing breeding stock it lessens the value of the animal. Many times feeder animals with short ears are sorted and discounted. Sometimes calves with frozen ears may have damage to their feet. The buyer may not be able to see the feet, but the ears are very easy to see. This is why many healthy calves are discounted for short ears. Many producers wrap or tape the ears back to the calf’s neck for several days. If you have problems with frozen ears it is best not to ear tag the calf until it is a little older. I don’t know why, but usually the ear which is tagged will be lost.
Calves are born with roughly 3 to 4 percent of body weight as fat. This is utilized in the first 24 hours of the calf’s life. If adequate nutrition is not provided in the form of milk, the calf will die in 3 to 5 days as a result of negative energy balance. When the calf is stressed (cold, drafty, wet hair coat, scours, pneumonia) it will begin losing weight. If your cows are stressed by the weather, they may decrease in milk production, adding to the calf’s stress. Keep your cows well fed and provide shelter from the cold winds. Many of our calf raisers increase calf feedings to three times a day rather than two.
Bedding is very important to the young calf. Not only does it help keep them clean and dry, but they nest in it. They burrow into the straw giving them protection from the wind and keeping them warm. In really cold weather many producers put coats on young calves. Some purchase commercially produced products while others use duct tape and towels or blankets torn into strips.
Shelter, bedding and adequate nutrition are very important in winter calving. We usually believe we have less problems with pathogens when the ground is frozen and not muddy. Consult with your nutritionalist, extension specialist, or veterinarian and formulate a workable program for your herd. Calving is a very important time for your herd and it is important to be prepared. The better prepared, the more profitable your herd.
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