Winter Calf Feeding and Management

12/11/2020

As the temperature drops we all change our habits to regulate body temperature. We put on a thicker jacket and a stocking cap, the growing heifers grow more hair, and the lactating cows get the curtains in their barns lowered. But small calves cannot thermoregulate well, and we need to adjust management to help them remain productive during the winter.

During the winter calves need more than just adequate housing – it is important to ensure proper ventilation but protect from drafts, bed with deep straw, and possibly consider jackets for calves less than one month of age. In all housing, but especially barns, drafts need to be stopped but the barn should not be completely closed. A closed barn gets humid easily which leads to pneumonia and other health issues. During the winter calves need to have deep bedded straw that the calf can nest in. When lying down their legs should generally not be visible. Jackets are helpful for younger calves in especially frigid temperatures.

As temperature decreases, calves’ nutrient requirements increase. There has been a lot of research conducted to determine the proper fat and protein concentration, and amount of milk replacer to feed during the winter. It may seem logical to increase fat concentration of the milk replacer to increase the energy concentration, but too much fat can negatively affect digestion of nutrients and decrease average daily gain. It is important to follow milk replacer label directions to keep solids consistent; more milk replacer powder in the same amount of water can cause scours. Any milk replacer that is 17-20% fat works well. Recommendations for amount are:

 

Breed

Pounds of Milk Replacer per day

Gallons of Whole Milk per day

First 3 weeks

Holstein  

2

2

Jersey  

1.5

1.5

3 weeks to weaning

Holstein  

1.5

1.5

Jersey  

1.0

1.0

 

An important nutrient that we often leave out in the winter is water. A calf does not get enough water from milk replacer to reach its growth potential. During winter, one 3 quart feeding of warm water is enough to increase starter intake and pre-weaning gain. The water must be warm so that the temperature of the rumen does not decrease as the calf then must use energy to bring the rumen back to thermoneutral. Calves will drink all the water before it freezes during most normal winter temperatures.

To ensure calves continue to grow well during winter it is important to bed with deep straw and prevent drafts, feed not too much and not too little milk replacer, and provide water. Meeting these guidelines will help calves thrive during the cooler months.

Contact your Nobis Agri Science Dairy Nutrition and Management Consultant with any questions or concerns about your calf program.

Tags: Calves