04/14/2022 Warming Cold Calves

Winter storms and continued cold weather have made calving season stressful this year. Dr. Gerald Stokka, NDSU Extension veterinarian and livestock stewardship specialist, joins Sound Ag Advice to discuss the best ways to warm chilled calves and the health issues to watch for down the road.

Speaker 1: Kelli Anderson, NDSU Ag Communication Specialist
Speaker 2: Gerald Stokka, NDSU Extension Veterinarian and Livestock Stewardship Specialist

Kelli: This is Sound Ag Advice, a weekly feature presented by NDSU Extension. I'm Kelli Anderson, and I'm joined this week by Dr. Gerald Stokka, NDSU Extension veterinarian and livestock stewardship specialist. We know that North Dakota is experiencing a massive winter storm. And unfortunately for some of our beef producers that are calving right now, that has made it awfully challenging, we know that producers are calving during this time and might have a hard time keeping those calves warm. So
Dr. Stokka kind of give us a snapshot of the current situation that beef producers are experiencing. And what are some things to keep in mind and getting those new calves warmed up?

Dr. Stokka: Thanks, Kelli. This is a this is an unusual April storm in terms of severity and amount of snow that's fallen and high winds and the ranchers will work as hard as they possibly can take care of these calves. You know, as it relates to calves that get what we call hypothermia, or too cold to support life very well. And that's where an intervention needs to take place. So, there's probably a couple different stages of hypothermia; one is a calf that's just cold...if you go out there and and feel a calf and you put your fingers in his mouth and he's cold, he may not have nursed. That's an emergency situation. And that calf needs intervention. So you bring the calf to a place where you can warm it up. And it's always important to warm the calf up for a while before you give it warm colostrum, we need to have those two heat conditions somewhat equal before we actually do it. Otherwise, absorption may not be what it needs to be for immunity that the calf needs to survive and thrive. So, evaluate whether that calf was nursed or not. So, whether the mouth is warm, whether the cows, udder and teats look like they've been nursed.

The other situation is a calf it's gotten up a nurse, but it's still cold and needs help. That's a case where you need to bring the calf in and maybe in that case is the hot box. And we use that term to describe temperatures in a confined area that are pretty nice and warm, that allow that heat to transfer to that calf. If on the other hand, you have a calf that, and most of the time this happens with a calf that hasn't nursed, a calf is basically unconscious or almost so. And that calf needs heat as well to be transferred to his inside of his body. And that's where a warm water bath really comes in handy. And there are different ways to do that. You can take them up to your own bathtub if you like or you can have things like some of the sleds we use to move calves, they can hold water, in many cases, you can fill them with warm water, you can use a utility sink that's big enough, some device that hold water, just warm that calf up. And that's actually a way to do it. That kind of transfers heat probably a little more efficiently than does dry heat. But once that calf is warmed up, then get some colostrum in that calf to insert survivability. And if you're going to bring the calf back to the mother, make sure it's completely dried off.
On a day like this, I probably wouldn't even take it back to the mother. I mean, we've had cases where it's been days and the mother just needs a little time and make her pay attention. They usually take that calf back, if they bonded with that calf, they'll usually take it back, those are a couple of tips as regards to warming calves up and the water needs to be warm. If you're going to use warm water probably over 100 degrees, probably even up to 105 degrees just to get that calf warm and it's going to cool off. Once you put that calf in the water and some people talk about it, it will shock the calf. And that might be true. So there's a little nuances to all this stuff, maybe you warm up the calf with dry heat a little bit ahead of time before you put it in the warm water bath. So there's little things you can do to maybe reduce that shock of a calf that's really cold. But that calf needs to be warmed up in order for his body to function the way it should be. And we probably will get some warmer temperatures here. Eventually, we just have to work through this. And we work as hard as we can we put in as many hours as we can. And then I guess we let God take care of the rest. That's all we can do.

Kelli: I agree. Finally, Dr. Stokka, when the sun does come up, and things get a little bit better. What are some of the things we should be looking for with those calves that are born in this situation to help them stay healthy?

Dr. Stokka: There are a couple things to be mindful of, you know, if it's really cold, you can have frozen ears, and you can actually have frozen feet. And frozen feet will show up pretty quickly, at least within 10 days, maybe a little bit longer in some cases. And that's really a poor, very poor prognosis for a good outcome. We hope none of that takes place. But those are two outcomes that can happen. And in terms of other health issues, if a calf has been chilled, isn't able to absorb the immunity that it should. If it was nursing its mother under ideal conditions, then that risk is a little bit increased for things like calf diarrhea, and maybe even a little bit later, after a few weeks of life. For things like even pneumonia, respiratory disease, it's because it's been a little bit immune compromised because of the stress and, and the lack of ability to absorb the immunity from the colostrum that the mother produces. So there, those are just a few things to keep in mind.

Kelli: Thank you for your advice today, Dr. Stokka, we appreciate you taking the time to join us. This has been Sound Ag Advice, a weekly feature presented by NDSU Extension.

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