Frostbite in Cattle
Livestock Update, February 2001
Dr. W. Dee Whittier, Extension Veterinarian, Cattle, VA-MD Regional College of Veterinary Medicine
With the coming of winter and calving season prevention of frostbite becomes an issue for many of Virginia's beef cattle producers. Depending on winter weather, significant calf losses can occur as a result of severe winter weather.
Frostbite is the damage to body tissues that occurs when these tissues freeze. The extremities are most at risk. Frozen ears and tails result in changes of cattle appearance but do not affect cattle performance significantly. Frozen feet generally result in a calf that must be put to sleep. Occasionally teats of a recently calved cow freeze resulting in mastitis and frequently loss of milk production in at least one quarter of the udder.
Newborn calves are most at risk because they are wet and because they have a large surface area in relation to their total body mass. Calves are not fully capable of maintaining temperature the first several hours of life. Calves probably have a circulatory system that is less able to respond to cold changes as compared to more mature animals.
Weather conditions have a great effect on the risk of frostbite, above and beyond just creating low temperatures. Wind is often the biggest factor. The effect of wind is often referred to as wind chill and tells how living things "feel the temperature". Wind chill is often many degrees colder than the actual temperature. Humidity has a large effect on cold as well since humid air can take more warmth away from animals. The surfaces on which cattle must rest also have a great effect on the risk of frostbite. If cattle must lie on snow ice or frozen ground they will loose much more body heat than if they can rest on dry bedding or grass. Snow or ice from freezing rain on calves dramatically increases heat loss.
Recommendation for preventing frostbite in Virginia Cattle: