Cattle Healthline

January 10, 2009 11:18 AM


Dan Goehl

This is a quiet time of year, but it is also a time when we need to prepare for the harsh realities of winter. Winterizing trucks, tractors and other equipment is second nature. But don't forget about the livestock. This time of year can be difficult for animals, and there are several areas that you should pay careful attention to.

Depending on how far north you are, winter shelter requirements may vary. For example, most cattle in Missouri can make do with windbreaks or a roof. A wooded area is often adequate to fulfill this purpose.

Give them space. The very worst scenario is to provide shelter that does not have adequate room. It is paramount that there is room for every animal and enough airflow to allow heat to dissipate.

Cattle in a building that is too small and that has inadequate airflow will build up excess heat, causing them to get warm and increase the moisture in the air. This "steaming" of cattle is perilous when they are forced to leave the shelter for food and water. It is better to provide 25 sq. ft. of well-ventilated shelter space per head to keep cattle in good health.

For animals in a drylot, earth mounds can also serve as shelter. This provides an area for the animals to get away from mud as the ground thaws and also provides a windbreak. Mound formations should have a 30% to 50% slope.

The cow–calf operation has some unique sheltering issues. This is especially true of fall calving herds. Fall calving can be a great management strategy in areas such as southern Iowa and Missouri, which offer the proper temperature ranges.

These calves, however, may need extra attention during a hard winter. A wise idea is to unroll bedding on the harshest of nights. Straw, cornstalks or hay can serve this purpose.

Another practice producers can use is calf shelter houses. These houses have creep gates or low-level bars that allow only animals below a certain height to gain entrance. Keeping the mothers away allows for smaller shelter houses and protects young calves from being injured by overcrowding.

Lastly, a production option that I utilize is to offer the calves a sanctuary where they can eat. A creep pen with high-quality hay allows them to forage without competition from the cows.

A good drink. One of the most neglected nutrients in the winter is water. Water is just as vital in the winter as it is in the heat of summer. Keeping waterers open in freezing weather should be a top priority.

The size of the pen will determine the amount of water trough space needed. Allow 2 ft. of water tank perimeter for every 25 head if cattle drink throughout the day. If the entire herd drinks at once, 2 ft. of tank perimeter is needed per head.

Pasture or range systems should use water tanks with a capacity for one day's supply. Because range cattle usually drink within a short period of time one or two times per day, the watering system should be able to supply the entire day's supply within four hours.

Feedlot watering systems require tanks with at least 50% of a day's supply available, and should be able to provide the day's supply within eight hours. Intensive grazing units can use smaller systems as cattle in close proximity to water will usually drink in smaller groups. A 500-lb. animal on a 40°F day will drink approximately 5 gal. of water.

Dan Goehl, DVM, and his wife own Canton Veterinary Clinic in Canton, Mo., working with stocker and cow–calf beef operations. He is also a partner in Professional Beef Services, LLC, which offers herd consultation and helps in data management and marketing of beef cattle. He can be reached at

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