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Cold Weather Calf Challenges - How are You Doing?

Jerry Bertoldo, Dairy
Northwest New York Dairy, Livestock & Field Crops

Last Modified: June 25, 2013
Cold Weather Calf Challenges - How are You Doing?

Winter adds stress to those who have to don extra clothing and work in cold temperatures on the farm. We can go home, take a hot shower, get warmed up and enjoy a satisfying meal before we have at it again tomorrow. Our calves don't have it quite so lucky. Think about some of the environment realities these little ones face.

  • Just born calves have about 18 hours of stored energy for maintenance when the weather is calm and warm. Wet just-born calves in well below freezing conditions may run out of "gas" in a few hours. 
  • Calves less than 3 weeks of age need extra energy for keeping warm below 59F
  • Calves older than 3 weeks need extra energy for keeping warm below 42F
  • These threshold temperatures increase with wind and wet conditions
  • Energy requirements increase with wind chill, evaporative cooling (wet legs and belly) and hair coat problems (mud, hair loss, matting/spiking from licking) potentially doubling in extreme conditions
  • Smaller calves have greater surface to body mass ration and chill easier
  • Air movement over a dry calf, less than 3 months old, at a temperature under 50F in excess of 1 MPH is considered a draft. 
  • Straw insulates better than shavings
  • Calves like to "nest". Straw makes this easier, but needs to be at least 4-6 inches deep.

Calves do not like drafts, but need fresh air. Well bedded hutches facing south do this rather well. Calf barns are generally built to naturally ventilate as well as they can in the summer. When calf barns are closed up in the winter the ammonia generated under the calves from manure and urine is a challenge to clear out. If you can smell it, it is too strong. These levels are irritating to the respiratory tract and can predispose the calf to lung infections.
  • Barns with two rows of pens ventilate more evenly than four row types
  • Wire paneled pens offer better air mixing than ones with solid sides. Pens with solid back panels can easily lead to poor air quality.
  • Early pneumonia (first two weeks of age) may be due to malnutrition (poor immune development), inhalation of milk (sloppy tube feeding, excessively large nipple holes), inhalation of bedding dust or significant BRSV virus exposure from shedding adults in the calving pen.

Resistance to disease in the young calf in the winter is very much influenced by energy balance and protein availability arguably as important as colostral immunity. Failing to address temperature drops, heat-depleting conditions and body size when feeding calves explains why more calves are lost in the cold weather than any other time of year.
  • Calves nurse 20-25% of their body weight per day when left on the dam. 8-12% of BW in milk or milk replacer is what we commonly hand feed to dairy calves.
  • Twice a day feeding makes high feeding rates difficult due to the inability of the gut to efficiently handle such volumes of liquid feed. Feeding on a 12 and 12 instead of a 14 and 10 hour interval basis helps to a degree. Going to 3X feeding is the better choice.
  • Whole milk provides 25% more energy than most milk replacers on a volume basis.
  • Calves do not digest starter as well in the first three weeks of life as they do after that. Forcing calves to eat starter early at the expense of milk/replacer intake not only slows growth potential, but is stressful to the calf and biologically counterproductive.

Calves are bovine infants. The characteristic early-to-their-feet toughness belies the susceptibility they have to stress, subpar nutrition and weather extremes.











calendar of events

Upcoming Events

Beginning Farmer/Hobby Farmer Workshop $5/pp, class size is limited, so pre-register by April 15th!

April 27, 2019
9:00 am - 1:00 pm
Canandaigua, NY

This hands-on workshop is for beginning or part-time farmers who would like to improve their farm machinery skills, learn to properly and safely maintain their equipment to protect their investment. If you have been thinking about buying a tractor, new or used, two-wheel or four-wheel drive, compact or utility or more come join us. Topics include: selecting the right size/type tractor for the job; basic maintenance; staying safe around tractors and equipment; attaching implements properly; and information about ROPS and SMV's. There will be time for questions.

Pre-registration requested by April 15, 2019 email Amy with your name, address, and phone number or call 585-394-3977 x 429.
Fee: $5.00/person. Class size is limited.

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2019 Pastured Poultry Seminar, lunch included so please register by May 10th! $25/person

May 18, 2019
Registration begins at 8:00 a.m.w/ coffee & donuts with the Program running from 9:00 a.m. - 5 p. m.
Attica, NY

The main speaker this year is Eli Reiff of Mifflinburg Pennsylvania. Eli raises broilers, turkeys, sheep, and beef, all on pasture. Topics to be covered will include the pasture, feed and nutrition, marketing, costs, and much more. As we grow as farm operators and get bigger, we may not pay as much attention to the basics as we should. So those areas are where we will start, and then expand to cover the group's interests.

Mike Badger, Director of the American Pastured Poultry Producers Association will also be available for a round-table discussion. Plans are to have representatives from Farm Bureau, NYCAMH for farm health and safety, Wyoming County Chamber of Commerce, and Cornell Cooperative Extension of Wyoming County, as well as others.

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Calling all 9th-12th graders! 4th Annual Precision Agriculture Day at Genesee Community College

May 21, 2019
9:00 am - 1:30 pm Register by Friday May 10th! $15/per person includes lunch
Batavia, NY

Calling all 9th-12th graders!  We have an exciting new program for students interested in technology, science, engineering, and agriculture!
Would you like to:
  • Learn about how Drones collect information
  • Check out some potential career opportunities that have new and ever-changing technology
  • Learn how these technologies can be used in our own backyards in WNY
  • Discover potential and exciting career opportunities

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Producers Previously Enrolled in the LGM Program Now Eligible for MPP

Dairy Producers Previously Enrolled in the Livestock Gross Margin Program Now Eligible for 2018 Margin Protection Program
The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) today announced that dairy producers who elected to participate in the Livestock Gross Margin for Dairy Cattle Program (LGM-Dairy) now have the opportunity to participate in the Margin Protection Program for Dairy (MPP-Dairy) for 2018 coverage. Sign-up will take place March 25 through May 10, 2019.
Eligible producers can enroll during the sign-up period at their local USDA service center. To locate your office, visit

Smart Farming Team Technical Assistance Grant Application

The Labor Ready Farmer Project is offering grants to provide up to 12 hours of Technical Assistance (TA) consulting services to farms who want to make improvements to their farm's processes in hiring, training, managing or evaluating employees. Applicants will choose from one of the following four areas for TA assistance and identify a specific project. If selected they will be matched with a "Smart Farming Team" of consultants who will provide one on one technical assistance.
Please complete this application and send to Nicole Waters, Beginning Farm Project Coordinator for the Cornell Small Farms Program. The form can be submitted by email, mail or in-person at the address listed below. Please feel free to call or email with any questions.

Nicole Waters - Beginning Farmer Project Coordinator
Plant Science Building, Room 15b
Tower Road, Cornell University
Ithaca, NY 14853
Phone: 607-255-9911

Applications accepted on a rolling basis.

USDA Announces January Income over Feed Cost Margin Triggers First 2019 Dairy Sa

WASHINGTON, March 6, 2019 ? The U.S. Department of Agriculture's Farm Service Agency (FSA) announced this week that the January 2019 income over feed cost margin was $7.99 per hundredweight, triggering the first payment for eligible dairy producers who purchase the appropriate level of coverage under the new but yet-to-be established Dairy Margin Coverage (DMC) program.

DMC, which replaces the Margin Protection Program for Dairy, is a voluntary risk management program for dairy producers that was authorized by the 2018 Farm Bill. DMC offers protection to dairy producers when the difference between the all milk price and the average feed cost (the margin) falls below a certain dollar amount selected by the producer.

Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue announced last week that sign up for 
DMC will open by mid-June of this year. At the time of sign up, producers who elect a DMC coverage level between $8.00 and $9.50 would be eligible for a payment for January 2019.

For example, a dairy operation with an established production history of 3 million pounds (30,000 cwt.) that elects the $9.50 coverage level for 50 percent of its production could potentially be eligible to receive $1,887.50 for January.

Sample calculation:
$9.50 - $7.99 margin = $1.51 difference
$1.51 times 50 percent of production times 2,500 cwt. (30,000 cwt./12) = $1,887.50

The calculated annual premium for coverage at $9.50 on 50 percent of a 3-million-pound production history for this example would be $2,250.

Sample calculation:
3,000,000 times 50 percent = 1,500,000/100 = 15,000 cwt. times 0.150 premium fee = $2,250

Operations making a one-time election to participate in DMC through 2023 are eligible to receive a 25 percent discount on their premium for the existing margin coverage rates.

"Congress created the Dairy Margin Coverage program to provide an important financial safety net for dairy producers, helping them weather shifting milk and feed prices," FSA Administrator Richard Fordyce said. "This program builds on the previous Margin Protection Program for Dairy, carrying forward many of the program upgrades made last year based on feedback from producers. We're working diligently to implement the DMC program and other FSA programs authorized by the 2018 Farm Bill."

Additional details about DMC and other FSA farm bill program changes can be found at

New Guidance for Mortality Disposal Issued

NYS Department of Ag and Markets has posted guidelines on disposal of livestock carcasses, in response to reports that some rendering companies have halted pickups from farms.|1