Managing Dairy Calves and Heifers During Winter Months
Attention to dairy calf/heifer management is important for maintaining growth rates, minimizing health issues, and optimizing future profitability of the dairy farm. The winter months are ahead, and with most of the harvest completed it’s time to prepare for these upcoming winter months.
Pre-weaned Dairy Calves: Dairy heifers account for about 30% of the feed costs on a dairy farm, and the most costly period for raising heifers is before weaning. The animal’s susceptibility to disease is often greatest during this time and the cost/unit of dry matter (DM) consumed is the highest. Energy requirements for calves housed in unheated facilities increase in the winter months, due to cold stress (lower critical temperature for newborn calves of 48°F vs. 32°F for older calves), and cold stress can increase the risk for disease. Unfortunately, the death rate sometimes increases in winter, and/or the growth rate plummets unless we provide additional energy to these calves. Additionally, we need to realize that small breed calves (e.g., Jersey) have about a 20% larger surface area/unit of body weight than large breed calves (e.g., Holstein).