The temperature of calves can be a more complex subject than you'd think. You probably know just how important it is to keep your calves warm. Newborns can be surprisingly vulnerable to the elements. And the colder they become, the greater the risk for a wide variety of ailments and illnesses. But as you'll soon see, there are a number of simple measures you can take to protect a calf against environmental extremes.
What Can Affect a Calf’s Temperature?
A calf's temperature goes hand in hand with the animal's health. When calves become too cold they also become more at risk for a variety of different ailments. This can range from hypothermia to a lowered immune system. At the same time, too much heat can pose a significant danger as well. When a calf experiences heat stress his body temperature will rise.
If a calf's temperature reaches 42.2°C (108°F) then it's likely to die from heat stroke.
You might wonder, what should a calf temperature be if it's healthy? The answer is that it depends on the time of day, a healthy calve's temperature naturally changes on a daily diurnal cycle. When healthy, they'll have a temperature of around 37.8°C (100°F) in the morning. By the afternoon this will typically rise up to around 39.4°C (103°F). What is the normal temperature for a baby calf? It's best to think of it as a range, or daily average.
In general, a healthy calf will average out to a temperature of around 39.1°C (102.5°F).
The environment also has an impact on the calf's temperature. On especially hot summer days a calf's temperature might naturally rise as high as 40°C (104°F). And, of course, just like humans, the calf's temperature will rise due to infections. In extreme cases, a fever can drive a calf's temperature up to around 41.7°C (107°F).
Low body temperature is just as much a danger as high. And in a lot of ways, it can be even more unpredictable. For example, you might assume that winter weather is the biggest risk factor for hypothermia in a calf. But while significant, winter weather is just one of a few larger issues. Wet and windy conditions, for example, poses as much or even more risk than the winter’s chill. And all of these problems can become more severe with the youngest animals.
The younger the calf the more at risk it is. And the situation can be especially critical shortly after birth. When a calf is born, it usually receives help keeping warm from its dam. This is part of why she'll clean the newborn calf's after birth. The process isn't just about grooming. She's also helping to stimulate the calf’s blood flow and heat it up. The calf is at risk if its temperature drops significantly below 37.8°C (100°F), and stages of hypothermia will begin around 42°C (102.5°F) with heat loss increasing the colder they get.
The risks of cold weather can also go beyond health and into your budget. Even when a calf's metabolism is able to compensate for the cold, that heat is generated by burning calories.
Calves have a thermoneutral zone between 10°C (50°F) and 25°C (77°F).
This is the range where calves start to feel cold and burn additional calories to generate warmth. This costs money in feed, and puts the animal at risk from both stress and environmental dangers which are all obviouly very important one why you need to focus on calf temperature.
Quick Remedies and Preventative Planning
One of the most important ways to keep a calf's temperature up is by keeping them dry. The dam knows what she's doing when she cleans a calf up after birth. You can do the same if needed by using a towel to rub a wet calf as dry as you can. Heated warming boxes can also be a useful way to raise temperatures up after birth.
If you need to get a calf's temperature up as quickly as possible you can give them a warm water bath followed by a brisk towel rub. But it's important to make sure the water’s temperature doesn’t rise over 37.8°C (100°F). However, sometimes the best methods are similar to what humans use to stay warm - a good coat or jacket. In the case of a calf that means finding a good calf coat.
Providing qualty bedding for the calves to nest in at night also helps greatly, if it is in a warm dry space during the night it conserves more energy allowing it to maintain a normal body temperature and will consume less during the day as it doesn't have to make up for calories lost through the night.
The Benefits of Calf Jackets
At this point you might wonder what is a calf jacket. It's essentially a jacket for calves, which has been specially designed to protect against most of the temperature-related dangers brought up so far. The jacket's most obvious benefit stems from the fact that it can help conserve body heat. This is in large part due to the fact that it's specially sized for calves using a calf coat sizing guide. The sizing has a big impact on heat retention. And this has also been proven to extend to issues related to caloric intake.
In 2016 an AFBI study showed that a control group with no jacket consumed 5% more food with no weight gain than the group with a jacket. This demonstrates that the jacketed group was more comfortable and not burning excess calories to maintain a higher temperature. The jacket's fitting also provides comfort in another way. The jacket's comfortable fit can ease anxiety and calm down nervous calves. There was a time when calf jackets were seen as a remedy for ailing animals. But today’s calf coats are about protecting healthy calves and taking a proactive approach to their health.
The jackets also protect calves from the dangers of wet and windy weather. The chill of autumn can in many ways be just as much of a danger to calves as winter. Anyone who's found themselves soaked in an autumn downpour can attest to the fact that it's chilling. But for a calf, that kind of weather poses a significant danger for hypothermia. But properly fitted calf jackets offer projection from both the winter chill and the rain of autumn. As long as you're caring for your calf jacket it'll offer a consistently wide range of protection. It's generally a good idea to have the jacket ready before temperatures drop into the 15°C (59°F) range.
Taking a Proactive Approach to a Calf’s Tempreture
Finally, it's important to keep in mind that a calf lives in an ever-changing environment. Nobody can ever be totally sure what surprises the weather or the different seasons hold. But taking all of the facts covered to this point in mind can give you a proactive approach that will ensure you're ready for anything. And when you're prepared, so are your calves.