Feeding rates should be increased by at least 50 percent or doubled under extreme cold. Feeding 1.5 gallons of a 20 percent fat milk replacer reconstituted to 12.5 percent solids provides sufficient energy for 0.23 pound of gain at 32 F. However, calves would need 2 gallons of this liquid to maintain a growth rate of 0.4 pound at 20 F. Research indicates the higher susceptibility of small calves to cold stress is why a 25 percent fat milk replacer was developed for Jersey calves.

Calf blankets also can help reduce heat loss if they are kept dry. My research at NDSU noted appreciable early growth and reduced morbidity of Holstein dairy heifers that were protected with blankets. The greatest benefit to calves was during the first month, with additional benefit up through weaning. Based on our experience and the acceptance by dairy producers who use blankets, I believe having at least a few blankets on hand is a worthwhile expenditure to keep those winter-born calves more comfortable.

Finally, feeding management must change to enable calves to grow and resist digestive and respiratory diseases. Don’t skimp on liquid feeding programs, especially during the first weeks of life when calf starter intake is low. Limiting the amount of milk or milk replacer (12.5 to 15 percent solids) to less than 1.5 gallons daily or using poor-quality milk replacer may reduce feed costs, but it can increase treatment costs substantially and possibly lead to increased mortality or reduce the animal’s lifetime performance.