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Monday, February 10, 2014

Warming Baby Calves

The last few days have been uncommonly cold here in Southern Kansas.  We are used to 30 and 40 degree temperatures during February not a week of single digits.  We are used to having a few cold days, so we do have some extra equipment when we have calves born on those cold days.  Compared to some of our neighbors we are overly ready for cold weather.  We work really hard before the calves start coming to make sure everything is ready for the new babies.

Most of the calves that have trouble on cold days are either twins or born to one of our "teenage mothers."  It is hard for a cow to get one calf cleaned off on a single digit day, but it is nearly impossible for her to get 2 dried off on an extremely cold day.

One of the best investments we have ever made was what we call a hot box.  It starts with this little heater.  It will warm the air quite a bit, but we have found if you really need to warm a very cold calf it is best to bring the box to a heated garage or in the house.  (Sorry for the bad pictures and really dirty box, but it has been really busy today.  4 different calves visited the hot box today.)
 The heater blows air in through a hole in the side of the box.
The bottom of the box has 2 ridges about 3 inches high.
The ridges support a open grate floor.  I really think the open floor is the key to this working as good as it does.  It allows the calf to get warm air all the way around him and allows water to drip off.  We used to warm calves on blankets and rugs, but the bottom side of the calf would still be wet.


One end has a vent at the top.  We keep the vent all the way open if the calf is very wet.  The vent lets out excess moisture that builds up in the top.  We were told that if you don't keep it open, the excess moisture can build up and cause the calf to get pneumonia. 

The other end has rubber flaps.  The marketing company said this was so the when the calf gets warm it can walk out and back to its mother.  Honestly, even when we have had it in the barn where the calf could get back to its mom if it wanted we only had one calf leave the box.
 We added a rope to one end of the box.  The box is not heavy, but it is awkward to handle especially by yourself.
I have put some very cold calves in the box.  The first calf we put in it was pretty much a popcicle.  The guys even had a hard time getting him into the truck, because they couldn't bend him at all.

A really cold calf will stretch out and their neck will almost bend over their back if you let it. 
 This is the first year we have put 2 calves in the box.  These two weren't very big calves and fit, but once one tried to stand up it was clear the box wasn't big enough for both of them.
 Once the calves sit up like a normal calf, we usually feel like we are almost ready to go back to mama.  When the calves stand up and start making a lot of noise in the box, you know they are ready to go back outside...especially if they are in the house in the middle of the night and you want some sleep. 
Our box is by Roy L Heat.  Our vet has one from Koehn Manufacturing.  They both use the same heater.  The main design idea is the same, but there are a few differences.  The box seemed expensive until we saved the first calf.  It is one piece of equipment that has paid for itself many times over.

Don't be fooled that we save every calf.  We have to find them alive to get a chance.  We have had plenty of reminders this week that Every Living Thing Will Die.

How would you warm up a baby calf?

-A Kansas Farm Mom