By Michigan State University Extension
EAST LANSING, Mich. — It is time to change to winter bedding and bring out the calf jackets to provide calves extra warmth from low temperatures.
If you normally use shavings as calf bedding during summer, switch now to straw bedding to help keep calves warm. When temperatures get below 40 degrees, the Michigan State University Extension recommends using straw bedding. Straw bedding is ideal when daytime highs or night time lows are below the thermo-neutral zone for a young calf. A newborn Holstein calf has to burn energy to keep herself warm when temperatures are below 50 degrees. If there is draft, wet bedding, or an immune system challenge, then the critical temperature is higher.
A calf is born with only 2 percent to 4 percent of body weight fat, which will not last long if she is forced to burn fat for heat production. Burning body fat for heat can lead to lower growth rates, compromised immune status and even death. The need for straw bedding at this time of year to provide warmth for young calves is true both in barns and in hutches. 
Straw is the best choice of bedding to provide thermal insulation for young calves. Straw tends to hold moisture so it is important to add fresh bedding regularly. Moisture exceeding 20 percent is too high. If you kneel with all your weight in the calf bedding, any moisture on your pants indicates the bedding is too wet. Straw should be bedded deep enough that the calf can nestle in. This traps warm air around the calf, which will help maintain body heat. For winter months, the straw should be deep enough that when the calf is lying down its legs are generally not visible.
Calf jackets are another way to protect calves from losing excess body heat. A field trial from North Dakota State University found that calves housed in hutches during winter had higher average daily gains while wearing calf jackets. When using calf jackets, make sure they are size correctly and stay dry.
The use of deep straw bedding and calf jackets during low temperatures will help young calves stay warm resulting in improved average daily gains and immune status.

 


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