Newborn calves still need protection from nighttime low temperatures.
By: Faith Cullens, Michigan State University Extension
Spring has sprung in Michigan! With the warmer temperatures, life gets a little easier for those caring for the calves on the farm. No more buckets of ice to chip away at, snow to plow through, or frozen pipes to deal with early in the morning. But it isn’t quite time to change to summer bedding materials and shortchange your calves in protection from the nighttime temperature swings.
If you normally use straw in the winter and switch to shavings or sand in summer, Michigan State University Extension recommends continuing use of straw bedding at this time of year. Straw bedding is ideal for when daytime highs are comfortable and nighttime 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 Fahrenheit. When there is a draft or the bedding is wet, the critical temperature is even lower.
A calf is born with only 3-4 percent of body weight as fat, which will not last long if she has to burn fat for heat production. Burning body fat for heat can lead to lower growth rates, health issues 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 for providing insulation to the young calf. However, straw also 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 on your knees in the calf bedding, any moisture on your pants indicates the bedding is too wet.
In another month or so, night time temperatures will moderate and we can change to our summer bedding, but until then – keep the straw coming!