The extremely cold winter nights have reminded us that spring calving season is just around the corner. More cold temperatures are likely during the upcoming calving season. Several years ago an Oklahoma rancher called to tell us of the success he had noticed in using a warm water bath to revive new born calves that had been severely cold stressed. A quick check of the scientific data on that subject bears out his observation.
Canadian animal scientists compared methods of reviving hypothermic or cold stressed baby calves. Heat production and rectal temperature were measured in 19 newborn calves during hypothermia (cold stress) and recovery when four different means of assistance were provided. Extreme hypothermia of about 86o F rectal temperature was found in the calves before re-warming was initiated. Calves were re-warmed in a 68 to 77o F air environment where thermal assistance was provided by added thermal insulation or by supplemental heat from infrared lamps. Other calves were re-warmed by immersion in warm water (100oF), with or without a 40cc drench of 20% ethanol in water. Normal rectal temperatures before cold stress were 103 oF. The time required to regain normal body temperature from a rectal temperature of 86oF was longer for calves with added insulation and those exposed to heat lamps than for the calves in the warm water and warm water plus ethanol treatments (90 and 92 vs 59 and 63 minutes, respectively).
During recovery, the calves re-warmed with the added insulation and heat lamps used more stored body energy to produce heat metabolically than the calves re-warmed in warm water. Total heat production from body stores during recovery was nearly twice as great for the calves with added insulation, exposed to the heat lamps than for calves in warm water and in warm water plus an oral drench of ethanol, respectively. By immersion of extremely cold stressed calves in warm (100 oF) water, normal body temperature was regained most rapidly and with minimal metabolic effort. No advantage was evident from oral administration of ethanol. When immersing these baby calves, do not forget to support the head above the water to avoid drowning the calf that you are trying to save.
Of course the calf must be dried off before returning the cold weather outside. Time honored methods such as drying the calf off with the gunny sack and then putting them under a heat lamp or in the floorboard of the pickup cab will still be helpful to many calves born in cold weather. These methods may not re-warm the calf as quickly or be quite as effective for the severe case of hypothermia. The source of research cited is Robinson and Young from the Univ. of Alberta in the 1988 Journal of Animal Science.