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January 21, 2013
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A Warm Bath Can Do the Trick

Research evaluates rewarming methods for cold-stressed newborn calves.

Canadian 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 (cold stress) and recovery when four different means of assistance were provided.

Hypothermia of 86° F rectal temperature was induced by immersion in cold water. Calves were rewarmed in a 68° to 77° air environment where thermal assistance was provided by added thermal insulation or by supplemental heat from infrared lamps.

Other calves were rewarmed by immersion in warm water (100°), with or without a 40 cc drench of 20% ethanol in water.

Normal rectal temperatures before cold stress were 103° F. The time required to regain normal body temperature from a rectal temperature of 86° 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 vs. 59 and 63 minutes, respectively).

During recovery, the calves rewarmed with the added insulation and heat lamps had to use up more body heat metabolically than the calves rewarmed in warm water. Total heat production during recovery was nearly twice as great for the calves with added insulation, exposed to the heat lamps than for calves in warm water and in warm water plus an oral drench of ethanol, respectively. This body heat production leaves the calves with less energy to maintain body temperature when returned to the cold environment.

By immersion of hypothermic calves in warm (100°) water, normal body temperature was regained most rapidly and with minimal metabolic effort; no advantage was evident from oral administration of ethanol.

When immersing these baby calves, do not forget to support the head above the water to avoid drowning the calf that you are trying to save. Also, make certain that they have been thoroughly dried before returning them to the cold weather and to the mother. With today’s calf prices and high feed cost inputs, it is imperative to save as many calves as possible.

Editor’s Note: This summary by Glenn Selk was first in the Cow-Calf Corner newsletter, Source: Robinson and Young. Univ. of Alberta. J. Anim. Sci., 1988.

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