The winter of 2014 has been unusually severe. While we typically breed our cows so that calving will occur in fall or early winter, every now and then we end up with a cow dropping a calf in some really cold weather. For those who live in northern areas, this may be a normal thing, but for farmers who live in areas that don\'t get extremely cold for very long, calving in extreme cold can cost them a calf. With sale prices for cattle projected to reach record highs, every calf saved will put money in your pocket. Here are some suggestions to help you keep those calves alive and healthy when they are hitting the ground in miserable, cold, winter weather.
1. Monitor your cows.
Know your cows\' projected due dates, the signs of upcoming calving, and check on cows that are close to calving at least twice a day. If possible, try to stay around if you know that a cow will be giving birth in the next few hours. Prompt intervention could mean the difference between life and death for a calf
2. Provide some sort of shelter.
In our area, cows most often calve out in the field. If you have a barn or shed that your cows can access, you may want to allow expectant mothers to bed down for the night in the barn. If you don\'t have any sort of building for the cows, you can provide a windbreak shelter with row of hay rolls or hay bales. Additionally, you can let the cows into a field that has a woodlot. The trees and shrubs will help keep the wind off of the cows.
3. Bedding helps.
A calf will have a higher chance of survival if he lands on a bed of soft, dry hay instead of the cold, frozen ground. You can unroll a hay roll, tear apart a straw bale or just leave half-eaten hay-rolls in large mounds in the field for the cows to lay upon. Place bedding on the south side of your windbreak, so the calves can be up out of the dirt and out of the wind.
4. Focus on Herd Health.
A healthy cow will give lots of rich colostrum to boost their calves\' immunities, and she will be more likely to give birth to hardy, robust calves. Make sure that you don\'t skimp on feed, because your mother cows need the nutrition when it is very cold.
5. Get That Calf Dry ASAP!
If the temperatures/wind chills are in the single digits, it is essential that you get the calf dry as fast as you can. If you can let the mother dry him by licking him, that\'s okay, but the calf may need more than that. Have a stash of old towels handy and rub the calf all over briskly. Pay special attention to his nose, ears, and tail. Be sure that you get him dry underneath too. If you\'re having trouble getting him dry quickly enough, take him into the house or your barn, garage, or outbuilding. There you can use heating pads, electric blankets, hair dryers, heat lamps, and warm towels to warm and dry the calf.
6. Warming a Chilled Calf
If you don\'t discover the calf right away and he\'s gotten very cold, what do you do then? The quickest way of warming a chilled calf is to submerge him in a tub of warm water. (Warm, being defined as about 100 degrees) Be sure to pay attention to the calf, because if he\'s sleepy or weak, he could drown if you don\'t support him. When you have him warmed, dry him completely before you return him to his mother. He should be completely dry, alert, and standing before you let him go back outside.
If the calf takes more than an hour to warm, you may want to give him a colostrum replacement, even if you plan on returning him to his mother. Every little bit of colostrum that he takes will help his immune system. When he returns to his mom, make sure he\'s nursing well. Those first nursings will warm the calf from the inside out and help improve his immune system.