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Posted: 11/22/2022
Beef calf standing near mother's udders in cold winter weather

Livestock Calories: Have You Increased Enough for Winter?

Livestock can experience a rise in health issues when the temperatures drop. The cold air, snow, rain and even mud can lead to animals needing to increase metabolism to maintain body temperature (i.e. they need more energy just to stay warm). It’s even worse for calves because they have far less body fat. To keep them healthy in the cold months, they can build that extra energy with additional calories. We’ve got the winter insight

Lower Critical Temperature (LCT) for Livestock

Animals have a unique thermoneutral zone or temperature range they’re most comfortable in (that’s also best for their health and performance). The bottom of the zone is called the lower critical temp (LCT). When their body gets below this temp, the animals experience cold stress and need to increase metabolism.

LCT can vary for each animal:

  • Cattle: 59°F summer or wet; 45°F fall; 32°F winter; 18°F heavy winter
  • Goats: 32°F
  • Horses: 40°F with a summer coat; 18°F with a winter coat
  • Sheep: 50°F if freshly shorn; 28°F with 2.5 inches of fleece
A clean, dry coat makes a big difference. Sheep’s wool can shed water, so it can insulate the animal even when wet but that’s not the case for cattle, horses, and goats. Regardless of how heavy those coats are, the LCT jumps to 59°F once they get wet. Nutrition is an important factor in how these animals handle the cold temperatures – especially if they have limited access to a barn.

Harsh Winters May Lead to Weak Calves

Cow nutrition throughout a pregnancy is important, but poor late gestational nutrition can directly impact the calf’s health and make them weaker at birth. A cow’s poor nutrition can also affect the colostrum quality and/or quantity which also plays a big role in calf health.

Once they do arrive at birth, calves have only 3-4% body fat so their LCT is different and must be carefully monitored. At less than 3 weeks old, a calf’s LCT is 59°F. Anything below that causes calves to pull from fat reserves to meet their maintenance energy needs just to stay warm. But those reserves get depleted quickly in the cold because calves have such little body fat to begin with.

Dairy calf drinking from bottle

Keep Calves Warm with Extra Calories this Winter

On average, it’s good practice to increase calories by 1% for each degree the temperature drops below an animal’s LCT. There are different ways to increase calories in calves: supplementing fat, giving higher-fat content, or increasing the amount of milk replacer. Here are a few popular products our customers turn to regularly to boost their calves’ energy during the winter.

Colostrum & Milk Replacers

We carry several colostrum and milk replacer products that give calves their best start, and support optimal performance through weaning and beyond. Choose from colostrum supplements, boluses, oral gels and more to get your calves up and nursing quickly. After calves get colostrum for their first 24 hours, you can use milk replacers like Ultra 24 Multi Species Milk Replacer through weaning. Ultra 24 offers 24% crude fat and 24% all-milk proteins for dairy and beef calves as well as foals, piglets, lambs, goat kids, llama and alpaca crias, fawns and elk calves. Just mix the dry powder with water and feed twice daily. Refer to the label for complete instructions.

Merrick's Blue Ribbon Power Punch

Feed this high-potency nutrient and energy drench to calves, in milk replacer, during times of low energy or sickness (it can be used for sheep and goats, too). Our customer Brian R. sent a powerful product review that speaks for itself: “Blue Ribbon Power Punch provides great extra energy for those cold winter days. I added it directly to the milk replacer 2 times a day during sub-zero temperatures on baby jersey calves with great results!”

Dyne High Calorie Nutritional Livestock Supplement

This Dyne supplement delivers extra calories with a tasty vanilla flavoring to encourage consumption. One customer review said “This stuff works great for any animal just needing extra calories. The flavor is a bonus, as so far everyone is taking it willingly from the syringe.”
Use for miniature or full-size calves, as well as goats, sheep and swine.

Vitamin E+AD Injectable for Cattle

This Durvet injectable may be suitable for use on Organic Farms (check with your certifier). Administer as an intramuscular or subcutaneous injection for beef and dairy cattle as a supplemental source of natural vitamin E with vitamins A and D3.

Vitamin E 300 Injectable for Livestock

Help stimulate the immune system and improve production and feed conversion with this multi-species injectable from Durvet. It’s a supplemental source of natural vitamin E for beef and dairy cattle, swine and sheep.

Don’t Forget About Water

It may sound silly, but it can be easy to forget about your livestock’s water needs during winter. This critical element to cattle health might be hard to come by in frigid temps and the snow just won’t cut it. Cattle need water to keep their appetite and maintain their condition. For these reasons and more, always check water access daily.

Get the Calories Your Calves Need from PBS Animal Health

When you’re ready to bundle up, it’s time for your calves to bulk up! Turn to PBS Animal Health for all the energy-enhancing products to help keep calves and all livestock healthy through the winter. You also can check out our Calving Center to shop post-calving supply categories for all your calf needs and other insights.

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