Sam Leadley, PhD, Attica Veterinary Associates, Attica, N.Y., offers suggestions for treating mild hypothermia in dairy calves.
1. Warm up the calf. For newborn calves the first step is to make sure the calf is dry – to stop evaporative heat loss (see Drying Off a Calf). Rubbing the calf vigorously with clean dry towels not only gets the calf dry but also stimulates higher pulse and breathing rates. Leadley also likes to add a clean dry calf blanket.
2. The second step is to feed plenty of high quality, clean, warm colostrum to warm the calf from the inside.
3. A third step may be to put the calf in a warm environment until her temperature is back up to 102°F. Warm rooms work. Commercial calf warmers work. Boxes with heat lamps work. Remember, however, the calves need to go back into their cold environment as soon as their body temperature comes back up to normal. Monitoring calf temperature is a best management practice – calves headed for cold housing need to go there as soon as they get back to “normal” temperature.
How about pre-weaned calves that have experienced a steady loss of body heat? Leadley says to feed 102°F body temperature milk. Offer equally warm water. Add a calf blanket. If needed, try temporary residence in a warm room (not on a cold wet concrete floor, however). Adding a heat lamp to a hutch can work, too.
Treat hypothermia promptly. Body reserves of energy are severely depleted in cold stressed calves. They will gain weight slowly. Most importantly, their body defenses against infections are likely to be weakened. They need to be watched closely for infections for at least two weeks after a hypothermic event.
Read more about cold stressed calves in the January Calving Ease.