Cattle care in cold weather | Living the Country Life
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Cattle care in cold weather

Keep your cows healthy, warm, and well-fed by following these suggestions for a successful winter!
  • Winterize cattle

    Cattle are comfortable at anywhere between 40 and 70 degrees, which means winter can be very hard on them. Provide a shelter for them if you can, but if not make sure they have everything they need to be left out in the elements. 

    Water should be constantly available and properly heated. Cows aren't fans of exceptionally cold water. Cattle will also need extra feed during the winter to maintain their body weight. Without additional feed, cattle will use up their body fat supply and you'll end up with very skinny cows come spring. 

    Date Published: November 26, 2013
    Date Updated: March 17, 2014
  • Protect from cold winds

    Studies show that cattle in protected feedlots gained ten more pounds than cattle in feedlots that were unprotected. 

    Be sure to keep your cattle safe from blasts of cold wind this winter by creating windbreaks on the north side of your field, as well as the west if manageable. At the minimum, any windbreak should be made up of three thick rows of conifers. 

    Try Eastern Red Cedar or Northern White Cedar and consider using shrubs for the innermost row toward the feedlot. For less heavy snow drifts, try planting another row of trees or shrubs 50 to 100 feet away from the main windbreak. 

    Date Published: November 26, 2013
    Date Updated: March 17, 2014
  • Adjusting cattle feed

    Winter feeding represents about 60% of the annual cost of cattle feeding. When temperatures drop below 20 degrees, cattle will need specific feeding rations to fuel their energy expenditure. For every degree below 20, cattle need one percent more energy. Another one percent should be added for every one mph increase in wind speed.

    To provide that energy for the cows, try feeding corn to the animals since it has plenty of energy-charged starch. Alfalfa is also an acceptable source of energy, but don't rely on only pastureland to keep up energy levels. It is considered grass, which is very low in energy.

    Date Published: November 26, 2013
    Date Updated: March 17, 2014
  • Monitor cattle health

    Cows can survive in the outdoors during the winter, but they can easily be affected by winter stress that could lead to health problems. Cattle that are huddled together with their backs to the wind, hunched over, and shivering could be in distress. To help, be sure to have some insulation, straw, between the ground and animals somewhere accessible to them. They should have a dry place to lay outside if they have no covered shelter options.

    Cows who are not eating and drinking as much, who seem lethargic, that have runny noses and eyes, who are coughing, and who have loose stools should be closely monitored since they are most likely suffering winter stress.

    Since cows use so much energy to keep warm, consider using a higher quality food during the winter. Also watch for foot and leg injuries since animals are spending their days on tough, frozen ground. 

    Date Published: November 26, 2013
    Date Updated: March 17, 2014
  • Prevent ice in water troughs

    If you are unable to warm the water that goes directly into your water troughs, consider insulating them with wood, dirt, styrofoam or any other insulating material. By keeping only a small amount of water exposed to the freezing winds, the chances of the entire water bin freezing over are more slim. 

    In a more mild climate, cattle owners are able to put a soccer or basketball in the water troughs to keep water moving when winds blow or animals drink. Some people have even been known to put koi fish in their water bins to keep the water moving.

    Date Published: November 26, 2013
    Date Updated: March 17, 2014
  • Mineral supplements

    To avoid mineral deficiencies during the wintertime in your cattle, mix supplemental minerals into their food to make sure they are getting an adequate amount of nutrients. A mineral block or tub isn't as ideal but will suffice for getting animals the minerals they need. Leaving out a loose supplement is a bit more risky since it could easily blow away in the wind.

    Salt and sodium chloride should be included in any winter supplement, but also make sure to provide plenty of phosphorous since it is often lacking in forages. In some cases, calcium should be a supplemental mineral. Expecting cows and cows that are lactating will need additional magnesium.

    Date Published: November 26, 2013
    Date Updated: March 17, 2014
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