What an incredibly cold winter. While it might be good for freezing pests and weeds, it isn't so good for newborn calves. I've heard it said that a baby calf can be wet or cold, but it can't be wet and cold. Of course they are born wet and even when they are up and moving their ears remain wet because that tends to be where mama keeps licking them. In temps under 24 degrees, calves younger than 24-36 hours will often get frostbitten ears, causing them to lose the tips of their ears.
So what are some options to keep their ears from freezing?
We did a lot of internet research and saw all sorts of solutions, from duct taping the ears to the head (good old duct tape, but OUCH!), using tubes of stretchy fabric from REI, ear mitten looking things, to foam type hoods that had multiple straps. The general consensus seems to be: if you can keep the ears close to their body for the first 24-36 hours the body heat would keep them from freezing. My dad has always taught me that when you have a problem you figure out how to fix it. So I took some measurements on a calf we were warming up, and went home to come up with a solution. A trip to Joann's and I had all the supplies to make 10 Calf Masks. I made a pattern, put one together, and tried it out.
Pretty close fit! Granted I hadn't taken into account just how much stretch there would be in the eye holes, so on the next ones I made the eye holes much smaller and made a few other adjustments, like adding velcro so the mama doesn't lick it off...
We now are using these on our newborn calves when ever the temps get below 24 degrees, and they are working great. We use the outside of the mask to dry off the calves ears and head a bit, then slip it on (this also gets their scent on the mask so the mama doesn't get too upset by the new smell). Tighten the velcro strap enough to keep the mask in place (but not to tight). We leave it on overnight until the temps warm up enough the next day. Usually after 24-36 hours their ears are dry enough and they are active enough that they don't seem to need the masks anymore, but different areas, more adverse weather, or different breeds might need a little more time. We'd suggest not waiting to long though to get it off... those little guys get awfully fast and hard to catch after 36 hours old!
Would you like some DeFriez Calf Hoodies for your babies? You can either buy the pattern for $5 and make your own or purchase them already made for $25 (includes shipping cost to the lower 48 states).
$5 Pattern - You can make your own or find someone who can sew to make them for you. This pattern is not for sharing or resale, in other words, please don't pass it around to all your friends or sell the pattern or make and sell the hoodies, instead please point anyone that is interested to our website... it's only $5 for the pattern, Thanks! Feel free to modify, as needed for your breed. This pattern fit our black Angus calves with birth weights from 60-90 lbs, I did cut a few about 1/2 inch smaller and a 1/2 inch bigger just in case I had an extra small or extra big calf.
If you choose to make it you will need the following: (this is enough to make 2-3 masks)
Hope you and your baby calves stay warm and dry as possible this winter!
Chelsea here, I'm the Ranchers daughter. Growing up my favorite place to be was outside working with the cattle. I earned my Bachelors in Animal Science; genetics and cattle reproduction were my favorite subjects. While at school I meet my sweetheart and we spent the next 12 years building our family of 6 children and following my husbands education and getting his career going. Now we are back (HOORAY!) and I love helping on the ranch, in the office, working with the cows... and (to my fathers chagrin) some Rambouillet sheep, miniature horses and chickens that we added for the kiddos.