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Overcoming Beef Feedlot Water Issues during Winter

March 6, 2013

Winter in the Northern Great Plains presents many challenges to feedlot operations. To face these challenges, feedlot managers need to - employ strategies to overcome the cold, wind and snow that invariably "bite" us, says Roger Ellis, veterinarian and SDSU Extension Beef Feedlot Field Specialist.

Increasing feed availability is one method, says Ellis.

"The effects of extreme cold temperatures, wind chills, and deep snow/ice/mud on beef cattle are well documented. The adaptation response of cattle is to redirect energy utilization or expend body reserves towards heat production and thus the requirements for energy increase. To achieve this, beef feedlot cattle need to increase feed intakes," he said.

With cold winter conditions, feed intakes will generally increase 5 to 25 percent if feed is available. Demand for energy is the primary nutrient required, however, the optimal ration should remain balanced with protein, vitamins, minerals and roughage needs.

However, Ellis says feed isn't the most essential nutrient for animals - water is.

"Water availability during winter months may be as big of a challenge unless good planning, facility design and good management practices are attended to," Ellis said.

Water requirements during colder conditions are generally about half of the needs of cattle during summer heat periods. For feedlot cattle, calves and yearlings generally require 5 to 10 gallons per day in conditions with temperatures below 70 degrees. Visit view a graph which shows the relationship of feed intake and maintenance requirements to temperature.

Ellis says that during periods of extreme cold and wind, cattle will actually reduce water intakes and rehydrate when conditions become more comfortable.

"If water is less available due to freezing or inaccessibility, cattle will require additional intakes and time to replenish. Prolonged unavailability of water will be life-threatening," he said.

TheEllis says - as cattle require increased feed intakes during severe winter conditions, water intake is reduced, what is the result of this relationship?

"Feed intake is positively correlated to water intake, so if water intake is restricted or reduced then feed intakes will be limited," he said.

Ellis explains that rate of feed passage may also be increased, leading to reduced digestibility. The end product of this equation will be inadequate energy intake to meet the increased requirements, resulting in reduced gains and poorer feed efficiency.  

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