Though winter has been mild in Oklahoma to date, some calves likely will be born during a wintry blast, and that means producers may be faced with the challenge of saving a cold-stressed newborn.

Glenn Selk, Oklahoma State University Cooperative Extension emeritus livestock specialist, warns newborn calves that are not found for several hours after birth and that have been exposed to exceedingly cold temperatures may become hypothermic or at least extremely stressed.

“A year ago, an Oklahoma rancher called to tell of the success he had noticed in using a warm water bath to revive newborn calves that had been severely cold stressed,” Selk said. “A quick check of the scientific data on that subject bears out his observation.”

In a Canadian study, animal scientists compared methods of reviving hypothermic or cold-stressed baby calves. Heat production and rectal temperature were measured in 19 newborn calves during hypothermia and recovery when four different means of assistance were provided.

Hypothermia of 86 degrees Fahrenheit rectal temperature was induced by immersion in cold water. Calves were re-warmed in an air environment of 68 degrees to 77 degrees Fahrenheit where thermal assistance was provided by added thermal insulation or by supplemental heat from infrared lamps. Other calves were re-warmed by immersion in 100 degree water, with or without a 40cc drench of 20 percent ethanol in the water. The normal rectal temperatures before the induction of cold stress were 103 degrees Fahrenheit.

“The time required to regain normal body temperature from a rectal temperature of 86 degrees was longer for calves with added insulation and those exposed to heat lamps than for the calves in the warm water and warm water plus ethanol treatments—90 and 92 minutes versus 59 and 63 minutes, respectively,” Selk said.

During recovery, the baby calves re-warmed with the added insulation and heat lamps had to use up more body heat metabolically than the calves re-warmed in warm water. Total heat production during recovery was nearly twice as great for the calves with added insulation and exposed to the heat lamps than for the calves placed in warm water or in warm water plus an oral drench of ethanol.

“This type of body heat production leaves calves with less energy to maintain body temperature when returned to a cold environment,” Selk said.

By immersion of hypothermic calves in warm water, the study indicated that normal body temperature was regained most rapidly and with minimal metabolic effort; no advantage was evident from oral administration of ethanol.

“When immersing cold-stressed baby calves, do not forget to support the head above the water to avoid drowning the calf that you are trying to save,” Selk said. “Also make certain that they have been thoroughly dried before being returned to the cold weather and their mothers.”

Selk added that today’s calf prices and high feed costs  make it more imperative than ever to take all steps possible to save as many calves as possible.