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♦ Reduce Calf Stress with Calf Coats
♦ Reduce Calf Stress with Calf Coats

Reduce Calf Stress with Calf Coats

Like any animal, calves can be greatly affected by cold temperatures. Calves can have an increased rate of illness and a decreased rate of gain if subjected to harsh weather conditions. Minimizing these effects is important for maintaining profitability in a herd. But at what point is a calf too cold? Understanding their thermal neutral zone can help you address their needs before temperature takes too great a toll. 

By mid-December, it's easy to feel the sting of cold temperatures; multiple layers, heavy jackets and durable working gloves become necessities. While the cold affects everyone, it can have a greater toll on babies and young children. The same is true when it comes to cattle. Calves are at greater risk in cold temperatures.

The internal temperature of cattle can fluctuate within a comfortable range called their thermal neutral zone (a range in temperature in which the animal does not use additional energy to maintain its core body temperature). With a thermal neutral zone of 50-68°F, calves are more susceptible to temperature fluctuations and the cold than mature cattle.1 The range of a calf's thermal neutral zone is so small that fluctuations between the upper critical temperature (UTC) and lower critical temperature (LCT) can happen overnight. 

LCT for calves is about 50°F, meaning when the temperature dips below 50°F, calves must burn extra energy to keep warm. By burning body fat, a calf will lose needed weight. Burning body fat also suppresses a calf's immune system during a period of life in which the calf is still developing it.1

Wind and snow have a greater effect on LCT. In general, a 25 mph wind can lower the temperature by 27 degrees, so a calf will start to lose energy when the temperature is 77°F with a 25 mph wind. Snow or rain will also put a calf's LCT around 70°F.

Calf stress can be reduced with a well-planned calf management program. Adequate bedding will increase the calf's energy efficiency, reduce coat wetness and encourage the calf to lie down. Pay close attention to the calves' nutritional requirements, as they increase when the temperature falls.

The use of calf coats can also decrease cold weather stress. Calf coats made with a waterproof outer shell and a warm lining can promote growth and vigor during the coldest of winters. A North Dakota State University study found dairy calves wearing calf coats gained 1.4 pounds daily from birth to four weeks, compared to the 1.2 pound gained by calves without blankets. The Canadian Journal of Veterinary Research (1989; 53: 275-278) also reported a 52 percent increase of overall animal insulation, when coats were worn by calves housed in -22°F to 0°F temperatures. By using a calf coat during the first 30 days, a calf can retain energy, directing it more towards growth and a strong immune system rather than the basic need to maintain body temperature.

For maximum benefit, calf coats should be placed on dry calves. Clean, dry coats provide the best insulation for animals. Machine-wash the coats between uses to prevent spreading of diseases.

Even though you may not feel cold when the temperature starts to fall, remember your calves may be burning extra energy just to stay warm.

GENEX offers strong and durable Calf Coats. These coats are assembled in the U.S., feature a waterproof outer lining and a quilted inner lining, are machine washable, and contain a Velcro front closure and buckle leg straps for easy on and off. GENEX Calf Coats are available in three sizes - small, large and x-large - to ensure a perfect fit for any breed. To outfit your calves in calf coats, contact your GENEX rep or visit 


(1) Broadwater, Neil. "Caring for calves in cold climatic conditions: Dairy extension: University of Minnesota extension." University of Minnesota Extension. 19 Nov. 2010. Web. 14 Nov. 2016.