Extreme Cold Doesn’t Stop Farmers

Posted: January 31, 2019 | Written By: Anne Proctor, Ph.D

As I write this blog post, we are experiencing record low temperatures in the Midwest.  The news stations have been telling people to stay inside, schools are closed, tow trucks won’t come for you if you choose to travel and even the post office is not delivering mail.  Our customers, however, are out in the weather today making sure the needs of their livestock are met.  Calves are some of the most vulnerable animals on the farm when temperatures drop.  Let me share with you some of the things farmers are doing to take care of the babies.

  • Maternity pens are bedded with extra straw and close up cows are being monitored even more aggressively than usual. A wet calf arriving in sub 20 below temperatures will freeze quickly if not tended to.
  • Calves are being dried under heat lamps or in warming boxes and calf jackets are going on as soon as they are dry. Calves that would normally go into hutches are being held in a protected location until the weather warms up.
  • Calves are bedded more heavily than usual so that the calf can “nest” down into the straw and protect her legs.
  • Managers are leaving calf jackets on older calves and waiting until the arctic blast passes before removing them.
  • Care is being taken to block any drafts, whether in hutches or calf pens. Straw bales along walls can block the cold coming through the concrete and give calves something to lie against for more warmth.
  • Younger calves that are in hutches are being blocked inside the hutch using the hutch doors, plywood or bales of straw. Some calves don’t seem to understand that it’s warmer inside.
  • Warm water is still being offered, but is dumped before it can freeze. Calf starter is being provided as usual and extra starter is being offered to older calves who will compensate for colder temperatures by eating more feed.
  • Milk is coming out of the pasteurizer warmer and milk replacer is being mixed to a warmer temperature to compensate for the temperature loss when it is poured into cold bottles or buckets. Remember to start your milk replacer mixing with hotter water than usual.  Adding milk replacer that is at -20 F is like putting ice into your mixer.
  • Calf feeding teams are being creative to minimize temperature loss between the mixer and the calf. Some are taking fewer bottles at a time and making more trips.  Some are insulating the bottle wagons with quilts over the bottles to reduce the temperature loss.
  • Calves are being fed an additional feeding or a higher volume of milk to help compensate for the additional energy the calf is using to stay warm. At -20 F, a calf’s maintenance energy requirement doubles.  Older calves will eat more starter for energy, but younger ones are dependent on milk for their energy.  For a calf exposed to these extreme temperatures, both feeding more volume at each feeding and adding another feeding may be necessary to compensate for the effects of the cold.  Be aware that fat supplements, while providing energy, do not provide enough additional energy without also adjusting your milk feeding program.
  • Farmers and employees are taking frequent breaks to warm up and be able to perform at their best. Not only is this cold weather taking a toll on our calves, but it is also taking a toll on our people.  Make sure you and your team members are dressed appropriately, eating well and taking breaks when necessary.  You can’t take good care of your calves if you’re not taking good care of yourself!

While it seems inadequate on days like these to simply offer thanks, your Form-A-Feed team wants to thank you, farmers, for the hard work you do to take care of all your livestock.