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Winter Weather Cattle Management

January 24, 2014
Chopping Ice
Chopping ice is often a necessary evil when it comes to making sure cattle have access to water in the winter.  

By: Warren Rusche, Cow/Calf Field Specialist, SDSU Extension

Winter weather conditions have certainly hit with a vengeance this year, not only in South Dakota but in a wide swath of the cattle producing areas of the United States. While we can’t change the weather, there are some things that can be done from a management standpoint to improve cattle comfort and reduce the impacts on cattle performance and efficiency during the winter.

Wind Protection
One of the most effective methods to reduce the impact of cold stress on cattle is to provide protection from the wind. Reducing the wind speed from 20 mph to 5 mph or less will reduce maintenance energy requirements by as much as 30 percent. Temporary windbreaks are very well suited for feedlots as they could be removed during the summer months when maximum air movement is desirable.

Bedding
Several research trials have shown advantages to providing bedding during extreme winter weather conditions. Researchers from the Carrington Research Extension Center in North Dakota found that cattle that were provided bedding gained faster (0.86 pounds increased ADG) and more efficiently than their non-bedded counterparts. These cattle also had increased carcass weights and a greater percentage grading Choice.

These researchers also found that the type of crop residue used can affect performance. There was a tendency for calves bedded with corn stalks to consume less dry matter from the ration compared to cattle bedded with wheat straw, resulting in slower gains in those calves. If cattle producers have both straw and corn stover available, there may be an economic benefit to dedicating straw supplies to bedding and using the corn stover as a roughage source.

Water and Feed Delivery
Extreme cold temperatures can test the limits of both people and machines like very few other weather conditions. Consequently, delivering feed and keeping water available can be a challenge. Successfully accomplishing both tasks is critically important to maintaining acceptable animal performance. Being prepared as much as possible ahead of forecasted winter storms will help keep storm-related disruptions to a minimum.

Managing feed intake is another challenge in the winter. Cold temperatures generally tend to increase feed intake. However, intakes can be reduced during severe cold stress and wind chill because cattle become reluctant to leave shelter to come up to the bunk or feeder. Any adjustments made to feed deliveries should be made conservatively to avoid digestive upset. Rations that are based on large amounts of low-quality roughage may need to be adjusted or supplemented with higher quality feedstuffs to ensure that energy intake is adequate. A ration that may work under "normal" conditions might not be sufficient during severe cold stress.

Pen Maintenance
As much as possible, snow that accumulates in the pen or lot should be removed. This winter’s snow becomes next spring’s mud, so reducing the amount that builds up in the pen will correspond to faster drying when the snow melts. Removing snow and ice from around waterers and bunk lines will provide better footing for the cattle and easier access to feed and water.

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