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Published February 03, 2014, 10:45 AM

Cold weather brings concerns for animals

At Christy Enterprises dairy farm south of Worthington, Minn., this winter, the black and white Holstein calves are sporting a little extra color.

By: Julie Buntjer , Forum News Service

WORTHINGTON, Minn. — At Christy Enterprises dairy farm south of Worthington, Minn., this winter, the black and white Holstein calves are sporting a little extra color.

Thinsulate coats in green, blue, black and pink shroud the calves in comfort and help regulate their body temperatures when the arctic air makes it too cold for man or beast to be outside.

DiDi Christopherson has used the coats for the farm’s newest animals for the past three years, and says the design has been improved in that time. The coats snap around the calf’s chest, stomach and legs, and are adjustable so as the calf grows, the coat can be loosened.

Calves at the dairy are in individual, outdoor pens with calf huts to protect them from the wind.

Sara Barber, a large animal veterinarian at the Veterinary Medical Center in Worthington, says calves do really well in the hutches — inside their own “micro-environment.”

Christopherson can attest to that, saying they haven’t seen any health issues in the calf crop despite the fluctuations in temperature and extreme cold.

“When it gets cold, it takes a lot more observation and time,” Christopherson says. “We’ve added extra bedding and extra feedings to keep their energy levels up.”

On the really cold days, she has snapped a second coat on the calves for added protection.

Calves are born inside a barn at the dairy farm, and Christopherson says she has them in a coat when they are hours old. She typically keeps the coats on them for six weeks, when they are moved from the calf hutches to a larger shelter.

Barber says calf coats will add 10 degrees of body heat to the calf.

Young livestock is typically the most stressed during bitter cold temperatures like those in southwest Minnesota this winter.

Providing the proper nutrition, increasing calories by 20 to 30 percent for general livestock and adding more bedding are all important to help get farm animals through the cold snaps.

“The first problems, if we’re going to see any, are in young calves — diarrhea and pneumonia,” Barber says. “It’s probably worse when we get weather fluctuations — the animals have trouble adapting to that and we will see more respiratory problems. Pneumonia shows up the first thing in a stressed animal.”

Overall, Barber says livestock health this winter “hasn’t been bad.”

“Typically what people will see is an increase in pneumonia cases — an increase in young dairy calf health issues — but farmers are really good at watching the weather and adapting and making sure their animals are well taken care of.

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