Days are shorter and nights are cooler. Winter is approaching. Many of you have already seen the first snow of the season. It is time to get out your winter gear and re-establish your winter protocols.
    The thermal-neutral zone for a calf under 3 weeks of age is 55 to 78 degrees F. Within this range, the calf does not have to expend extra energy to maintain body temperature. With lower temperatures, the calf experiences cold stress, needs more energy to stay warm and may not grow as efficiently as possible. Cold weather can be tough on calves, but simple management and feeding strategies can make winter go more smoothly.
    Combating cold stress starts in the maternity area. Clean, deep-bedded straw for the calf to nestle in after birth prevents loss of heat to the environment. The calf’s hair coat works as an insulator by trapping air and creating a boundary between the body and the cool ambient air. Towel-drying calves aids in fluffing this hair coat. Pay special attention to drying the ears as this will reduce the risk of frost damage.
    Many farms have warming pens to finish the drying process and keep calves warm during the first 12 to 24 hours of life. Keep these pens clean and sanitize them between calves if possible as the warm environment is a great place for bacteria to thrive. If using heat lamps, safely secure them to prevent fires.
    As the calf moves out of its warming pen and into its clean, dry space, provide an adequate amount of bedding that ensures good nesting such as straw. Bedding should be deep and fluffy, allowing the calf to nest and conserve energy. Bedding condition should be monitored to make sure it is kept dry.
    Calf jackets also limit heat loss, but calves need to be dry before they are fitted with jackets. A jacket on a wet calf holds the moisture and chills the calf. Make sure jackets are clean and in good condition. It is recommended to have enough jackets to cover all calves younger than 3 weeks. This may differ depending on the housing environment. A good rule of thumb is to keep the jacket on until the calf is consuming starter regularly. Do not forget to adjust the straps as the calf grows.
    As the temperature decreases, the caloric demand increases, which leaves fewer calories available for growth and immune function. Strategies to elevate caloric intake during cold stress include:
    - Boost milk feeding volume, typically by one-third.
    - Feed milk more frequently (three feedings daily).
    - Elevate energy intake by adding 2 to 6 ounces of supplemental fat per calf per day.
    Each of these options comes with pros and cons to evaluate with your calf management team and nutritionist. Pick the strategy that works the best on your farm.
    No matter which option you choose, consistency is the key to success. Monitor milk mixing and delivery temperatures at the beginning and end of the feeding to minimize variation. Milk temperature at feeding should be around 105 degrees F.
    Throughout the year, encourage starter grain intake by keeping it fresh and dry. In addition to providing supplemental calories, starter grain intake has a secondary benefit. Heat from microbial fermentation in the rumen will also contribute to the calf’s energy needs during cold stress.
    Water intake is crucial to starter grain intake regardless of the temperature. Even though feeding water can be challenging in the winter, it is extremely important. A common practice in the winter is to feed warm water shortly after milk and dump the pails before they freeze. Warm water and starter consumption are positively correlated. The more starter the calf eats, the more water it will drink.
    Calf performance does not need to drop as temperatures decrease. Sticking to your cold weather calf care protocols will help the next generation of your dairy herd thrive throughout the upcoming months.  
    Barry Visser is a nutritionist for Vita Plus.