Creating the optimum environment for your calves can be challenging. Calf jackets allow farmers to mitigate cold stress on young claves and give them the best start for the future. Calves have a thermoneutral zone of between 10-25 Degrees Celsius, what this means is that in this zone the calf is not using up vital energy to keep warm. According to Teagasc calves perform best at 15-20 Degrees Celsius but cannot generate sufficient heat for this until their rumen is fully developed. Calves which are not in a suitable temperature can have compromised immunity and poor growth rates. Under the critical level of 10 Degrees Celsius calves will consume more milk replacer as well as concentrate just to maintain core temperature. In order to maintain the optimal core temperature calves must consume more dry matter feed, in fact Teagasc recommend feeding an extra 2% for every Degree under 10 Degrees Celsius. This research suggests calves must consume more feed to simply maintain core temperature which would be better used for growth. Similarly, a Harper Adams study found that calves wearing jackets had increased growth rates compared to non-jacket wearing calves while still consuming less feed than them. It found that calves gained and extra 5kg over a 12-week period while consuming less feed in doing so. Many farms attempt to increase temperature for calves by blocking ventilation off however it is vital that calf houses have appropriate ventilation and fresh air flowing through them, blocking ventilation can do more harm than good leading to outbreaks such as pneumonia. A calf jacket does a much better job of keeping calves core temperature correct while allowing the shed to be appropriately ventilated. Calf jackets create a microenvironment for the calf to protect it against the cold or draughts. Studies from AFBI clearly indicate that calves are exposed to cold temperatures throughout the calving season, which puts them at a greater risk for problems in early life aswell as using more energy and consuming more feed in order to try mitigate the cold.
Marsh, S.P., Bleach, E.C.L. and Clift, J. (2017). Evaluation of calf coats on the performance and health of artificially reared winter born beef calves to 12 weeks. Advances in Animal Biosciences: 8. Paper 29.
Some Tips For Using Calf Jackets
- Only use dry jackets for a calf. A dry jacket will be better at insulating the calf and won’t trap moisture.
- Ensure the jackets are clean. A clean jacket won’t spread disease around and will ensure biosecurity between animals.
- Make sure the calf is dry. A calf must be dry before a jacket is put on them so they do not become sick.
- Make sure the jacket is a snug fit. Ensure the jacket fits well so that it is doing its job and is not annoying the calf.
- Monitor the jackets. Ensure the straps are adjusted as the calf grows and replace jackets if they are wet or soiled.
- Ensure calves have the right bedding. Calves need enough straw bedding so that they can nest, you should not be able to see their legs when they lay down.
- Calves less than a month old are priority. These calves are most vulnerable to cold and should be given priority if the temperature drops below 15 Degrees Celsius.