Vet’s Voice by Dr. Dave Barz: Take extra measures when it is extra cold

Thanksgiving was great in our area. We cattlemen have a lot to be thankful for this year. We have adequate feed and we also have record high cattle prices. The only problem this fall is the cold weather. November delivered record low temperatures after October’s record high temperatures. Preparation and attention to detail can minimize weather stress and reduce incidence of illness and animal losses.

We have some producers calving now and others are raising barn calves. Once the young calf is dry, it can withstand moderate cold. The young calf is born with only enough energy (brown fat) to keep warm for about 24 hours. Colostrum has 2-3 times the amount of fat as normal milk. Newborn calves need to suckle high quality colostrum within four hours of birth.

This winter we have already seen several cases of frost bite. Most of these calves will merely lose their ears or tails, but some have had frozen extremities. Thaw these slowly with warm water and towels. In some instances the feet may slough. Euthanization is the best for these suffering animals.

If possible, the animals should be sheltered from the wind. Calf shelters help keep the young animals sheltered while maintaining separation from the adult herd. This helps avoid crushing and injury to the calves. Bedding is an important component of winter calf care. Clean, dry conditions with adequate straw allow the calf to “nest” and enables it to stay warm and dry.

If you are feeding nursery calves, you must consider the temperature in the hut or building. A drop in the environmental temperature from 70° to 10° increases the metabolizable energy needs of the calf by 85 percent. This is best accomplished by adding fat to milk replacers or feeding higher quality replacers. You may need to feed an extra meal of milk replacer daily to accomplish increased nutritional needs. Warm water may be offered twice daily to help warm calves. Several producers utilize calf jackets/blankets to provide warmth for calves up to one month of age.

When the temperature drops below 20 degrees your cows will need extra feedstuffs to maintain body condition. Wind chills and wet hides can greatly increase those energy needs. If your hay is of good quality, feeding additional hay will generally be sufficient. When low quality roughage is used, you will need to add 1-2 pounds of supplemental protein. In extreme cold or wet conditions cows will need to eat an additional 7-8 pounds of hay or 4-5 pounds of grain or high energy by products. If nutritional needs are not met, the cow may lose 2 pounds per day.

Many of us forget about our bulls during the winter. We must feed them similarly to our cows to assure their health and body condition. The testicles are pendulous and hang below the body in a very thin uninsulated sac covered with little hair. In windy conditions this is very susceptible to freezing. Wind breaks are a big help in minimizing the affects of cold. Adequate bedding also helps insulate the testes as the bull beds down on the frozen ground. The process of sperm formation takes approximately sixty days but in some instances bulls never recover from frost damage. That is why we should semen evaluate our bulls yearly.

Bitter cold affects all segments of our operations. Most of us were fortunate enough to have number one fuel in our tractors and feed trucks, but most of us weren’t prepared to manage our cows in the first cold snap. Watch your herd closely and make the nutritional and management changes to protect your herd from loss. It will increase your future returns.