With temperatures dipping well below freezing in parts of the Plains and Midwest, “spring” calving season poses a challenge for cow-calf producers. The cold, wet weather can affect the health of both the cow and her calf, says Kansas State University veterinarian Larry Hollis. “During cold weather it is essential to get the calves to ‘mother up’ immediately after birth. Getting the colostrum or ‘first milk’ will help prevent scours (calf diarrhea) and help warm the newborn.”

In the first 24 hours of life, calves can absorb antibodies directly through their gut wall and into the blood stream, says Dr. Hollis, who specializes in cattle-health management. The gut wall ‘closes’ by the end of that 24-hour period. Calves can absorb more antibodies in the first one to two hours after birth than they can 20 to 24 hours after birth.

In addition, scours can become a problem and result in death in calves due to dehydration or a lack of electrolytes, which are secondary to the infectious cause of the disease. “It is also important to have enough dry and clean ground for the cows to give birth on. Giving birth on ground that is covered in manure can cause problems for the calves, like scours.”

Also during cold weather, a cow’s energy requirements, before and after giving birth, are higher than in warm weather, Dr. Hollis says. The cattle may not get the energy they need from hay alone. Feeding grains or other high-energy feedstuffs is important to the cow herd’s health.