Winter weather can be lethal to baby calves. Newborn calves are highly susceptible to cold stress because they have virtually no energy reserves and no naturally present immune system.

Calves three weeks old and younger are especially in need of supportive care and nutrition in cold weather. Without careful management, cold stress can cause depressed immune function, poor response to treatments and vaccinations, decreased growth performance and possibly death.

Following are 10 ways to support young calves through the approaching winter months:


1) Colostrum – Deliver 4 quarts of warm, clean colostrum within 4 hours of birth to promote passive transfer of immunity, while providing essential nutrients, liquids and internal warmth.

2) Increased nutritional intake – A drop in environmental temperature from 70°F to 10°F       increases metabolizable energy needs by 85% in young calves. Meet these needs by using a fat supplement or adding extra feedings to your current milk or milk replacer program.

3) Bedding – Choose straw bedding over wood shavings in the winter. Bed liberally and          frequently so calves can “nest” to stay warm and dry. Good bedding preserves energy and reduces disease.

4) Ventilation – Strive to create air flow at the calf level without creating drafts. Aim for 4 to 5 air exchanges per hour, which can be achieved in calf barns with the help of positive pressure ventilation tubes.

5) Housing – Use solid panels between calves or pens of calves to limit drafts. Strive for all-in, all-out housing in both hutches and calf barns.

6) Sanitation – Wash feeding utensils and milk-handling equipment with warm, soapy water. Then rinse with warm water, disinfect, rinse again, and allow to dry.

7) Calf jackets – Consider using calf jackets on newborn calves up to three weeks of age to     provide an additional layer of warmth and moisture protection.

8) Hair coat – A wet hair coat requires additional energy for calves to stay warm. A dry, fluffy hair coat provides a layer of protective warmth. Dry newborn calves off quickly and prevent hair coats from becoming wet thereafter.

9) Water – Offer warm water twice a day for 30 minutes, even in the coldest conditions. Water intake helps calves digest added nutrients in their milk-based diets and promotes starter-grain intake.

10) Consistent care – Make changes gradually. Abrupt and/or frequent dietary changes can cause nutritional scours or bloat. Keep housing consistent and do not move young calves until they are well beyond three weeks of age.


David Cook, PhD, is Technical Services Manager with Milk Products, Inc. For more detailed advice on cold-weather nutritional accommodations for young calves, visit