Winter Season Best Care Practices for Dairy Calf Health


These calves at Murcrest Farms, Copenhagen, NY, are snug in their well-bedded pens and calf coats. Photo: NNYADP

Dairy farms face a variety of challenges, including how cold weather affects their animals. Progressive research by the farmer-led Northern New York Agricultural Development Program (NNYADP) is advancing the science-based understanding of how climate and farm management practices impact dairy calf health in the winter season.

Dairy farmers across the six-county Northern NY region have participated in the NNYADP research focused on calf health evaluation by Cornell University Quality Milk Production Services, Cornell Cooperative Extension, and the W.H. Miner Agricultural Research Institute.

A series of NNYADP research projects conducted since 2015 have focused on how adjusting housing type, bedding, the number of calves in a pen, temperature, airflow, wind chill, humidity, and ammonia concentration in calf pens can help reduce the rate of respiratory illness in pre-weaned calves under extreme cold stress. Proper winter care of calves positively influences weight gain in the young animals and, longer-term, their future milk production and calving potential.

A dairy calf health risk assessment tool, built by Cornell Cooperative Extension using data collected from NNYADP dairy calf research projects since 2012, helps farmers identify on-farm environmental and farm management factors that can be adjusted to achieve the greatest positive impact on calf health.


“We have seen a reduction in winter-related calf health issues, primarily respiratory challenges, on the farms that have implemented management changes based on the research data and the calf health risk assessment,” says Kimberley Morrill, Ph.D, Cornell Cooperative Extension Regional Dairy Specialist.

The calf health risk assessment tool is available to agricultural educators by contacting Morrill at 315-379-9192. Training is required to conduct the on-farm evaluations.

Other NNYADP research into the variable climate, environmental and farm management factors related to heat stress on dairy calves and cows is providing the basis for adapting best care practices for application farm-by-farm and by season. Learn more on the Northern New York Agricultural Development Program website at

Funding for the Northern New York Agricultural Development Program is provided by the New York State Senate and administered by the New York State Department of Agriculture and Markets.

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