Help Your Calves Beat the Heat

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Heat stress is a common summertime challenge for young calves. The increased heat and humidity experienced in most parts of the country decrease weight gain and increase the age at first calving of dairy replacement calves.


Sun-2.pngCalf care and comfort plays a big role in how stressful higher temperatures can be. As summertime temperatures rise above 78oF, providing shade especially over outside hutches can have a big effect on calf respiration rate and body temperature. Summer bedding should be clean, dry, provide a comfortable surface to lie on and allow the calf to dissipate body heat to the surface. Air movement inside of barns is critical and elevating one side of a hutch to allow air flow can help reduce the temperature inside. Be sure to provide plenty of clean fresh water at all times.


As the outside temperature climbs, the calf’s body temperature can begin to rise. To rid itself of additional heat, the calf begins to sweat. Unfortunately, calves are rather poor sweat-ers.  Soon the calf begins to breathe more rapidly. This helps rid the body of some excess heat, but it also increases water loss through respiration and actually causes the calf to lose carbon dioxide.


As the level of carbon dioxide in the calf’s bloodstream drops, blood pH begins to rise, becoming more alkaline. Clinically this is known as respiratory alkalosis. In response to this rise in pH, the kidneys spring into action and begin to remove sodium from the blood, concentrating it in the calf’s urine. By removing sodium, the kidneys lower pH to counteract the effect of the lungs. Through their combined efforts, the lungs and kidneys have averted a potentially dangerous or even life-threatening situation for the calf. 


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To get back to normal the calf must replace both the water and electrolytes,  especially sodium, lost during heat stress.  Oral electrolyte therapy is a great solution. Sodium is a key component of most electrolytes products, is the major electrolyte in the bloodstream and also enhances water absorption. Water follows sodium wherever it goes in the body.  As sodium is absorbed from the calf’s digestive tract, water moves along with it.

Manna Pro’s Advance Arrest® and HydroPakTM provide supplemental sodium to help calves get back on track. They also provide energy, electrolytes, microbials and other important nutrients for calves that are stressed due to high temperatures. If administered early enough, treatment can avert or at least lessen the heat stress and resulting physiological changes in the calf, including calf scours.

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Rob Costello

Dairy Technical Manager, Milk Specialties Global.


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