Cold stress and newborn calves

Farm Forum

Brookings – For the 73 percent of South Dakota’s cattle producers who calve in the spring, calving is right around the corner. Being prepared is key for a successful and profitable calving season, says Kalyn Waters, SDSU Extension Cow/Calf Field Specialist.

“In a year when input costs are at record highs, saving every calf possible is at the top of producers’ check list,” Waters said.

Cold temperatures and storms often threaten newborn calves. According to USDA reports, each year approximately 95,000 calves are lost annually to cold stress and hypothermia.

Waters says understanding the risks of hypothermia in newborn calves and working to identify its severity quickly allows for proper treatment and will increase calf survival.

“When calves are 24 hours old or less and air temperatures drop below 56.2 degrees, additional energy is needed to maintain their body temperature and health,” Waters said.

She adds that several factors impact a newborns calf’s ability to combat hypothermia and cold stress including; maternal diet prior to calving, calving difficulty, hair coat, bedding, colostrum intake, speed of detection, wind speed, and shelter.

Know what the weather holds

Waters says one of the first steps in planning to prevent cold stress, is to have a clear understanding of what weather conditions are. Shes encourages producers to frequently check the Cold Advisory for Newborn Livestock (CANL) forecast which is available on the Aberdeen National Weather Service Web site

“The Cold Advisory for Newborn Livestock (CANL) forecast at the Aberdeen area’s National Weather Service Web site was created with input from northern U.S. ranchers and experts in animal science and those who study biological responses to extreme weather conditions,” said Edwards, SDSU Extension Climate Field Specialist.

Edwards explains that the CANL forecast takes five factors into account: wind chill, rain or wet snow, high humidity, combinations of wind chill and precipitation, and sunshine vs. cloudy days. As a result, it is a quick and easy way to combine several weather factors together to determine the hazardous weather risk to your newborn calves. To learn more about CANL, visit and read “Cold Weather Advisories for Newborn Livestock.” To view the National Weather Services’ CANL, visit .

In instances where a calf becomes chilled, Waters says producers need to be ready to warm them up – whether it’s using a warming box, water baths or another warming method.

To learn more about this topic, Waters encourages producers to visit and read the following articles: “Q & A: Lower Critical Temperatures for Newborn Calves” and “Cold Stress and Newborn Calves.”

“Calving can be stressful time for many cow/calf producers, however being prepared, and learning more about how to identify and respond to cold stress and hypothermia will allow for it to be better managed, reducing its impact on the calving season,” Waters said.

To learn more on this and other livestock topics, visit