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Keeping Newborns Warm in Cold Weather

10 March 2023

With sub-zero temperatures and wintery showers forecast, farmers in the midst of calving and lambing must keep newborns warm to avoid losses, should the cold snap continue.

Colostrum intake is vital to give newborn calves and lambs the best start in life. Not only is it a highly nutritious energy source, containing antibodies to protect against disease, but colostrum also helps to maintain body temperature. This will reduce losses from hypothermia.

The recommended volume of colostrum intake for calves is 10% of their body weight within the first 2 hours, followed by a similar amount within the next 12 hours. For lambs 200ml within 2 hours of birth and 200ml/kg within 24hrs.

Hypothermia is a major cause of mortality in newborn lambs, so if the cold temperatures and wintery weather continue be prepared to act quickly to ensure lambs are kept warm. Important things to remember during cold weather:

  • Warm lambs before feeding. A hypothermic lamb can’t digest milk.
  • Do not overheat cold lambs. Warming a lamb too quickly can cause death.
  • Do not warm hypothermic lambs in warm water.

Young calves spend the majority of their time lying down (approx. 80% of their time), so it is extremely important that they have a clean, dry bed to lie among. Ensure newborn and young calves are well bedded, to allow the calf to nest and trap a layer of warm air around itself, allowing it to keep warm. Calves less than three weeks old are the most vulnerable to temperature changes, ensure there are no draughts at calf level and no leaking water troughs or gutterings in their shed.

Ensure calving and lambing pens and sheds are bedded deeply, with clean dry straw, as damp bedding tends to lie flat and does not allow the calf to nest. Good amounts of clean, dry straw is also crucial to reduce the incidence of pneumonia, scour, navel ill, and watery mouth.


Related FAS Materials

Newborn Calf lying in straw

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