As temperatures start to drop and the cold weather is slowly creeping in, the topic of calf jackets arises. Breeding experts and vets agree on the importance of calf jackets to improve the health of calves and to save on feed.
What is a calf jacket? Calf jackets are jackets that are specifically designed for calves. They are designed to fit a calf during the first 3 to 5 weeks of its life. Here's why you need a calf jacket for your animals.
IT HELPS CALF REGULATE BODY TEMPERATURE
Maintaining your body temperature requires a lot of energy. For calves, the thermoneutral zone, in other words, the zone in which they can comfortably maintain their body temperature without burning excessive energy, is between 10 and 25 degrees Celsius between birth and approximately one month old (this can vary depending on the calf's growth pace).
This means that if the temperature drops below 10 degrees C, a young calf will start to feel cold and burn a lot of energy to maintain its body temperature.
When a calf burns excessive energy, it comes at a cost for the breeder. The energy use can affect the immunity and growth rate of the animal, putting the calf at risk. Additionally, the calf will need more frequent feed intake to compensate for the energy consumed.
THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN WEARING A JACKET AND NOT
Wearing a calf jacket can help the calf maintain optimal body temperature. According to the AFBI study carried out between September and November 2016 at the Hillsborough research, which compared calves fitted with a jacket with those not wearing anything:
- The group wearing no jacket consumed statistically 5% more dry feed.
This shows that calves with a jacket did not need more food to maintain their body temperature.
However, we need to caveat the statement. The breeding environment plays a significant role in maintaining a comfortable temperature. For instance, a fitted calf jacket may not make a significant difference in a heated housing environment with low humidity. However, if calves are exposed to humidity, do not have straw bedding, experience cold air draughts in their housing, a fitted jacket can prove advantageous.
Breeders also find that a calf jacket can help reduce anxiety in nervous calves and encourage them to relax.
DO I NEED A CALF JACKET?
In general, animal health and welfare advocates strongly recommend the use of a calf fitted jacket for young calves within the first 4 weeks of their lives.
A calf jacket provides protection for young calves, helping them maintain their body temperature in a cold environment. Additionally, weak or sick calves can also recover quicker and better when they are fitted with a jacket.
Yet, a jacket is not the only essential improvement you can make to the calf environment. Calves benefit greatly from a housing environment featuring dry bedding such as deep, dry straw, to lower their critical temperature. Similarly, a damp floor, such as damp straw, will mean a calf tends to feel cold when the temperature reaches 11 degrees C. In comparison, a concrete floor type will increase the lower critical temperature at which a calf begins to feel cold to 18 degrees Celsius.
Therefore fitting jackets to your calves along with quality feed, comfortable bedding and shelter will greatly improve the gains the calf makes during its first months of life.
WHAT DO YOU NEED FROM A CALF JACKET?
If you are in the process of purchasing calf jackets, you want to get familiar with the main technical and design elements. Due to the nature of the protection, you want to focus on calf jackets that are:
- Suited for the seasonal temperature
- Well fitted to the calf
Correctly fitting the calf jacket is important. The jacket should not obstruct movements, letting the calf walk and lie down freely. Additionally, you should ensure the jacket is completely dry (and the calf is dry) before fitting it. Otherwise, it could defeat the purpose of keeping the calf warm.
Weekly checks of the fitting should be done and adjustments made to the straps to ensure the jacket continues to be comfortable while the calf grows. To ensure the jacket lasts and can be used season after season see our calf jacket care guide.