As cattle producers get ready for spring calving, making sure newborn calves are protected from cold stress and hypothermia should be a top concern. Kalyn Waters is a cow/calf field specialist with South Dakota State University Extension. She tells Brownfield Ag News, “I think a lot of producers overlook how cold these temperatures actually are for calves. And as a result we have a lot of deaths from cold stress and hypothermia in calves. The USDA reports that approximately 95,000 calves are lost annually due to cold stress.” Waters adds, “When we look at the costs of production and the drought and the things that cow/calf producers are facing, we really need to make sure that we get every one of those calves that are born, alive to the market this fall. So, managing cold stress is one of the ways that we can help improve our weaning percentages.”
Not only do those newborn calves need to nurse right away, she says they need clean bedding and shelter. And, long term, mamma cows need good diets, especially because of the stress of the drought. “Coming out of a drought, grasslands and grazing and even the quality of hay that we have to get our cows through the winter on, isn’t exactly optimal. So when cows are receiving a restricted diet, we actually see that those calves have a decreased ability to fight cold stress,” Waters tells Brownfield.
Calves born to diet-stressed cows will have a decreased percentage of brown fat deposited when they are born and that’s one of the things that’s really critical for them to mobilize to stay warm. Waters says calves’ stores of fat and energy at birth will be exhausted in 18 hours and that’s why nursing right away, especially in cold weather, is very important.
When air temperatures drop below 56 degrees Fahrenheit, she says, newborn calves will need help to stay warm. Getting them to nurse right away is very important. Waters says, “If we don’t get some colostrum and some milk in that calf right away they really don’t have a very good chance of being able to create body heat and keep themselves warm.” If they become chilled, she says warm water baths and warm boxes can help.
Waters says to keep an eye on your local weather and in South Dakota and other northern states, producers should check the Cold Advisory for Newborn Livestock forecast on the National Weather Service Website.
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