4 Tips to Jump-Start Your Winter Calf Feeding Program

4 Tips to Jump-Start Your Winter Calf Feeding Program
10/11/2017

Help your calves beat the winter blues with these four winter feeding tips.

  1. Increase Nutrition Levels - The biggest challenge calves face in winter is getting enough nutrition to maintain normal growth rates. Calves spend more energy staying warm in winter. As such, maintenance needs increase tremendously. Increasing nutrition levels will ensure calves receive enough total energy to maintain body condition and continue growing. Adding a third feeding is an easy way to increase nutrition when temperatures drop. If you’re already feeding three times a day, increase the volume at each feeding. It’s important to remember you can’t just add water to increase the volume. Keep the solids concentration the same and bump up the total volume of solution.
  2. Transition to a Seasonal Milk Replacer - Calves have different energy requirements in summer and winter, so it makes sense to have different milk replacers for each season. Feeding a winter-specific milk replacer will help calves handle cold stress, maintain body condition and meet increased energy needs. Total energy is the most important factor to consider when choosing a seasonal milk replacer. To maximize energy levels, look for a milk replacer with 20 percent fat and at least 26 percent protein. Milk replacers should be balanced for fatty acids with high levels of medium-chain triglycerides, omega-3 fatty acids and should contain L-carnitine. This helps calves break down and utilize fat as well as improve starter intake.
  3. Keep Starter Fresh - Starter intake increases as much as 200 percent in wintertime, so it’s important to monitor intake closely. It’s a balancing act of providing enough starter to prevent empty buckets and keeping starter fresh by not overfeeding. To keep starter fresh, feed smaller amounts more frequently throughout the day. Also look for a starter low in molasses. Molasses is poorly digested by calves and can cause the starter to freeze and turn into chunks, which isn’t palatable for calves and decreases intake.
  4. Avoid Frozen Buckets - Water is equally as important in cold temperatures as it is in summer heat. Dry winter air can dehydrate calves. Providing an adequate water supply helps keep calves hydrated and supports growth by boosting starter intake. Offer water to calves immediately after each milk feeding and let them drink as much as they want. Make sure the water is 100ºF to 105ºF to avoid lowering calves’ body temperature. To avoid annoying frozen buckets, remove excess water from the buckets after feeding.

Don’t let dropping temperatures freeze calf growth and performance on your farm. Work with your local calf and heifer specialist to start planning your winter calf nutrition program today.

Article from Progressive Dairyman, September 2017.

Tags: Calf Nutrition, Winter Feeding Strategies