For the Future of Farming


Calves: Coping with the cold

Afbeelding: brown and white calves NL small

Cold weather poses a significant challenge to calves and will negatively impact on growth rates and calf health, if not managed correctly.

When calves are exposed to lower critical temperatures (LCT) of 10°C and below, they will start to suffer from cold stress and divert energy away from growth to help maintain a comfortable body temperature.

If calves are exposed to low temperatures for long periods of time, the risk of straying into negative energy balance, when the amount of energy that a calf is expending to keep warm is greater than that they are obtaining from feed, increases. While dry, well bedded housing and calf jackets will help to keep a calf’s core body temperature elevated, the most effective way to ensure that calves have enough energy reserves to keep warm and maintain strong growth rates, is to provide them with more feed.

Additional calf milk replacer required (g/day)

Ambient temperature

Calf aged < 3 weeks (50kg)

Calf aged >3 weeks (65kg)

20°C 0 0
10°C 107 0
5°C 161 66
0°C 201 131
–10°C 322 262

Additional calf milk replacer (CMR) should be given to calves during prolonged spells of cold weather. As a general rule of thumb, it is advised that an extra 10 grammes of CMR should be fed for every one degree drop below a calf’s LCT. It is important to remember that younger animals will have less tolerance to the cold – calves younger than three weeks of age have an LCT of 20°C. To efficiently increase CMR intakes, producers should use higher concentrations of CMR, such as an increase from 15% to 17%, rather than just increasing litres fed per day.

By providing additional feed during cold weather, calves will achieve good growth rates, maintain condition and support fragile immune systems.