Winter care for cattle
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There are several factors that can affect cattle performance and health during the winter as temperatures lower and energy needs increase.
Nutrition, shelter, water and supplementation are key things to be aware of for winter livestock management.
“Cattle accustomed to colder climates can tolerate surprisingly cold weather because of their thick skin and thick winter coat,” says Chris Clark, Iowa State University Extension and Outreach Beef Field Specialist for Southwest Iowa. “Even so, when it’s really cold, cattle need extra energy to stay warm, so providing that extra energy through nutrition and supplementation is important.”Date Published: December 16, 2014Date Updated: December 16, 2014
Rule of thumb
The lower critical temperature (LCT) is the lowest temperature or wind chill that the animals can handle without requiring more energy to stay warm. Once temperatures fall below the LCT, more energy is required to maintain that core body temperature.
“A rule of thumb is to increase the daily energy by one percent for every degree below 30 degrees Fahrenheit for moderately conditioned cows,” says Clark. “If the cattle are in poorer condition or lack the insulation of fat cover, that daily energy intake should increase even more to prevent weight loss and effect performance.”
The cattle may not even be able to eat enough to meet their needs if they’re eating lower quality hay or cornstalks. To compensate, add more energy dense feeds, distiller grains for example, to provide the animals with adequate nutrition.Date Published: December 16, 2014Date Updated: December 16, 2014
Wind and rain are major factors when it comes to the lower critical temperature. The rule of thumb is to use 30 degrees Fahrenheit as the indicator, but with rain and wind, that temperature could be higher.
Having a building for shelter or a fence line or timber for a windbreak will help protect the livestock from harsh weather. If there is no above ground shelter available, Clark recommends supplying the animals with a lot of dry, thick bedding.Date Published: December 16, 2014Date Updated: December 16, 2014
It is important for cattle to have a sufficient water source during the colder months of the year. In order for cattle to consume more feed, they have to have enough water. Less water will lead to less feed intake.
Livestock producers should check waters frequently to make sure they aren’t frozen and cattle have access to it.
Clark recommends the following checklist when managing livestock waters during winter:
- Check water sources frequently
-Examine and repair heated water tanks while the weather is still relatively mild
-Using a floating insulator is another option to keep the water from freezing
-Try to keep cattle off of pond ice. If chopping pond ice is the only water source, try to fence it off so they aren’t able get on it.Date Published: December 16, 2014Date Updated: December 16, 2014
Cattle calving in cold weather need more energy, in addition to weather-related factors.
Energy requirements increase in late gestation and early lactation. The overall health of the fetus and production of the calf can be affected by insufficient amounts of nourishment.
“Fetal programming research suggests that if a fetus is short on protein, vitamins and minerals, that calf is likely to be less healthy, and could have a lower performance rate for the rest of it’s life,” says Clark.
For added energy, highly digestible carbs and sugars are good to add to the cattle’s diet. Using byproducts, barley, molasses and oats are examples of additional supplementation.
You can have the feed tested for a nutritional analysis, or work with an extension specialist to attain your balanced ration.
For more information, visit the Iowa State University Extension and Outreach Iowa Beef Center.Date Published: December 16, 2014Date Updated: December 16, 2014
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