Winter and calving seasons pose challenges for ranchers as they strive to keep their calves healthy and comfortable. The optimal temperature range for newborn calves is between 55 and 70°F, but when temperatures drop below 50°F, young calves can experience cold stress.
To prevent hypothermia and ensure the well-being of their calves, ranchers must implement effective strategies. Discover five expert tips from Ralco’s ruminant nutritionists to successfully handle winter calving.
1. Maintain Body Condition Scores
To ensure a successful winter calving season, it’s crucial to prioritize the health of your cows. One key aspect of this is maintaining a healthy body condition score (BCS), which measures a cow’s available energy reserves. Low BCS can lead to various issues such as increased open days, weaker calves, insufficient colostrum, decreased milk production, difficult births and lower weights at weaning. Therefore, it’s essential for cows to have a BCS of at least 5 when calving during the winter months to avoid these challenges.
2. Prepare Facilities
During the winter months, it is crucial to provide adequate shelter and bedding for cows and their calves. Windbreaks are effective in protecting them from the cold. Ideally, cows should be sheltered and bedded before calving. This will encourage the cow to rest and create a warm space for the newborn calf away from the frozen ground. When it comes to bedding options, straw is the best choice as it minimizes any sticking to the calf. Straw bedding also helps prevent frozen ears, tails and feet. It’s recommended that the straw is deep enough to cover the calf’s legs when it lies down.
3. Develop a Solid Nutrition Plan
Ensuring optimal nutrition for cows during the pre and post-winter calving period is crucial. This is especially important in the last 1.5 months of gestation. Inadequate nutrition during this time can negatively impact the vitality, health and performance of the calf. One of the key factors contributing to this is the low-quality colostrum from the cow, as well as the calf’s inability to stand and nurse. Furthermore, deficiencies in essential macro and micronutrients can lead to inadequate colostrum production. To achieve the best outcomes, it’s recommended to consult with a ruminant nutritionist who can help ensure that your cows are receiving well-balanced diets and appropriate mineral supplementation.
4. Gather Supplies
In every rancher’s calving toolbox, there are essential items that can make a difference in saving newborn calves during winter. A few of these items include:
OB lubricant and calving chains for dystocia or birth challenges
Pail for warm water, paper towels, calf jackets or other calf warmers
Colostrum with bottle and nipples or feeding tubes
The basics like tags, notebook and pencil for recording calf information
Additionally, using oral bioactive drenches like Start Strong for Calves can help give weak calves the energy to stand up and nurse by stimulating their appetite. It’s worth noting that calves lose 50% of their ability to absorb colostrum from milk by the time they’re 12 hours old. Therefore, the quicker they can stand, the better their chances of survival.
5. Prepare Treatments
Scours, or diarrhea, is the leading cause of death among calves in the first month of life. When faced with this threat, it’s essential to have the basics on hand to save the lives of newborn calves. The top priority for a calf suffering from scours is to replace the water and electrolytes they have lost. This can be done by administering fluids orally or intravenously, with the guidance of a veterinarian. It’s also crucial to provide electrolytes and find a shelter or warm location for the calf, preferably isolated from healthy cows and calves. This will help alleviate the additional stress of cold temperatures on top of scours. Remember to consult a veterinarian for assistance in these critical situations.