Young calf at feeder

Nutrition will play a key role in keeping calves functioning during cold weather. Producers could introduce calves to something other than milk and grass to prepare them for winter.

It might have been 80 degrees when that calf dropped in September, but soon those calves will have to face Old Man Winter.

Now is the time to start preparing for colder weather, says Denise Schwab, Iowa State University Extension beef specialist in Vinton, Iowa.

She says how the cold impacts a calf will depend on its age. Calves born in August, for example, may not be as susceptible to cold and wet conditions as a calf born in early October.

“Those babies are not going to have the body mass and insulation older calves will have,” Schwab says. “You need to do all you can to keep them clean and dry.”

Nutrition will play a key role in keeping calves functioning during cold weather. She says producers could introduce calves to something other than milk and grass to prepare them for winter.

“If you are feeding cows at the feedbunk, have the calves come up and eat with them,” she says. “You can use creep feed as well, or even wean calves earlier than you might a spring calf.”

Any sort of stressful situation will impact a calf’s well-being, says Jim Humphrey, University of Missouri Extension beef specialist in Savannah, Missouri.

He says even something as simple as moving young calves on a cold day can cause stress.

Wet conditions this fall are likely impacting fall calves. Humphrey says the combination of cold and wet weather can lead to respiratory issues.

“I would make sure you talk with your veterinarian to make sure those calves have what they need to stay healthy,” Humphrey says.

Following the labels on vaccination bottles is also important. Humphrey says leaving a bottle in a vehicle and letting it get hot or freeze can lessen the effect, particularly with a modified-live vaccine.

“If they are supposed to get two rounds, make sure they get both of them,” he says.

Using a shelter of some sort could also help keep young calves dry and at least partially out of the elements, Humphrey says.

Finally, make sure calves are getting the minerals they need.

“They aren’t going to be getting the minerals from the grass like they do in the summer,” Humphrey says, adding fall is a good time to check stored feed inventory.

Schwab says with many farmers starting to harvest grain, an extra effort needs to be made to make sure fall calves are thriving.

“Make sure they are eating, and that no one is hanging back because they aren’t feeling well,” she says. “I know it’s a busy time, but you need to keep an eye on them, especially when it starts getting colder.”

Sign up for our weekly CropWatch newsletter

* I understand and agree that registration on or use of this site constitutes agreement to its user agreement and privacy policy.

Jeff DeYoung is livestock editor for Iowa Farmer Today, Missouri Farmer Today and Illinois Farmer Today.