Thursday, February 13, 2014

Practical cattle fashion: Calf coats

What do you do when you start calving and the high, without windchill, is somewhere around zero? For my family, one answer has been to bundle up the newborn calves in their own coat. I brought this concept with me to South Dakota this spring, where it has come in very handy. By that I mean the first four calves wore the coat until the next calf was born.
We came across this idea years ago when someone, another family member perhaps, hooked us up with an actual "calf coat." Made of weather-proof material, and designed to allow the calf to stay dry and warm while also being able to go to the bathroom without making a mess, we were instantly impressed. We had used old vests, human coats, etc... for this same purpose, but a coat designed for the shape of a calf and made from weather-proof material was a significant improvement. The not so impressive aspect was the cost - around $50 apiece in most major vet catalogs. I realize that $50 really isn't all that much to spend, but it never hurts to see if there is a better deal to be had. Plus, when you're putting a coat on an animal that has no consideration for what you paid to keep them bundled up and warm, they rudely rub it on barb wire, stomp on it, chew on it, terrorize their buddies with it, and on and on. All made possible because the same coat kept them from chilling down.
So, we got creative, and found the above dog coats at a feed store a couple years ago for $20 apiece. Score! Show is Tough1 coat in a size large on a newborn calf weighing in the mid 70-pound range. It works great for the most part. The only thing I would change about this coat, from a livestock standpoint, is that you have to put it over the calf's head. With past coats, there was a Velcro strap that went across the chest and under the belly. But, considering I can buy 5 of these coats for the cost of 2 with that Velcro option, I'm happy. It also doesn't fit every calf perfectly, and sometimes the back end flies up a little, but again the affordability, ease with which you can put it on and take it off, and the fact that it's weather-proof material keeps the calf dry and warm means it gets the job done.
What does everyone else do to keep newborn calves warm in less than ideal conditions? We also have sheds at our disposal that are often used, and tried duct taping ears on a couple little guys this year. The baby calves were not at all impressed with that idea.
Fortunately today the weather is 45 degrees above zero and sunny, meaning the calves are happy and the coat is hanging in the basement!


  1. We've quit calving in the winter. This year the cows aren't due to start calving until the end of March. My husband is talking about waiting until April next year. It makes a world of difference in his attitude during calving season to not have the snow and ice to worry about.

    1. I think you just nailed the best thing you can do to avoid bad weather! I agree that would be great. My husband calves now because historically it has been just him at his house, and he also farms. So, by the time the weather improves he is in the field and unable to watch his heifers properly. I think moving the calving date back a month or more would be fantastic, maybe I should have him talk to your husband : )