Newborn dairy calves aren’t the only babies that can use extra warmth during a cold winter (see Bovine Veterinarian, February 2009). Lana Kaiser, MD, DVM, Mason, Mich., says beef calves in cold climates can also use some extra insulation, but she offers advice on calf blankets for the beef calf’s unique situation.
“As a veterinarian I have seen what extremes in temperature can do to young calves that may not thermoregulate like adult cattle, so while a barn with no walls is great to prevent respiratory disease, calving in below zero weather with wind can be real hard on baby calves,” Kaiser explains. “I like them to use their energy to grow, stay healthy and develop a great immune system, not use it to keep warm.”
Kaiser says the requirements for calf coats for beef calves is different than dairy calves because with beef calves you have the mother constantly licking and pushing the coat around and you may not have the time to buckle or snap things. “We used polar fleece because it is warm, breathable, stays warm if wet, washes great, stretches on and off pretty easy and can take a licking,” Kaiser notes.
Kaiser’s mother makes the calf coats with a Velcro belly strap and two four-way stretch polar fleece straps for the back legs. Kaiser says depending on extreme conditions, sometimes the calf blankets are doubled up on the calf.
Calf coats are also commercially available from some companies, and Kaiser says in a pinch large dog coats or human polar fleece vests (as seen in the February practice tip) can be used.