Are your calves ready for winter?
Lisa Wiens & Mark Cameron, Cargill Animal Nutrition

With winter inevitably well on its way in western Canada, it’s time that we put on the toques and mitts but if you aren’t preparing your young stock, they may be losing out to cold stress. Younger calves are more susceptible to cold stress than mature cattle, and being the next generation in your milking herd it is important that they be well taken care of.

Calves younger than 3 weeks of age have a lower critical temperature of 15˚C and calves older than 3 weeks of age have a lower critical temperature of 5˚C. This means that below these temperatures the maintenance requirements for these animals’ increases, as they need to put more energy and body reserves into staying warm. A cold stressed calf will not grow and is more susceptible to disease and illness. While, it may not be necessary to make major changes to your calf facilities or diets, sometimes small changes can have huge impacts on reducing cold stress.


Temperature °C (°F)

Total grams of milk powder per feeding (g),

Fed 2X/day

Whole Milk
per day (L)

10°C (50°F)



5°C (41°F)



0°C (32°F)



-5°C (23°F)



10°C (14°F)



20°C (4°F)



On average mix 225 g of milk replacer powder into 2 litres of water


Tips for combatting cold stressed calves:

Higher energy nutrition – With lower temperatures, the nutrition requirements of calves increases as they need more energy to stay warm and to continue to grow.

Increase the amount of milk or milk replacer fed – Calves have a reduced ability to absorb colostrum in cold stressed situations and will require more of it to gain the full benefits and protection from the antibodies.

-+2% increase in amount of milk or milk replacer for every 1˚C decrease in temperature below 10˚C.

-Feeding 3x a day may work to accommodate this

-Milk or milk replacer should be fed at 40˚C so the calf will not need to use more energy to heat the milk to body temperature to digest.

Increase starter intake

-start calves as early as possible on a good quality calf starter product

-offering clean, lukewarm (17-28˚C) drinking water 2-3 times a day will also encourage greater starter intakes – provide free access if possible or at least between milk feedings. Calf starter intake goal is to consume 0.75 kg per calf per day by 28 days of age.

-Dry off new born calves – a wet coat doesn’t provide the calf with any insulation and takes heat away from the calf as it evaporates.

Provide the best environment for the calf as possible

-Use plenty of clean and dry bedding to provide insulation to your calves and reduce heat loss

-Enough bedding is when no legs are showing when the calf is laying down

-You should be able to kneel in the straw and to determine that it is dry

-For calves housed outside in hutches, try to find a location on farm where calves are kept out of the wind

-Calf blankets may be a good investment for young calves under 3 weeks of age – However, it is very important to keep them clean and dry to receive full benefits

Calves are the next generation of your milking herd but are often overlooked. If you are noticing slower growth and/or increased disease rates, it may be time to make changes to help keep your calves warm. Cold stress could be the difference to having your replacement animals enter the milking herd earlier and being more economical for your farm in the long run.