Cattle Healthline: Don''t Forget to Winterize Your Cowherd

December 9, 2009 06:00 PM

Dan Goehl
Winterizing the truck, tractors and other farm equipment you have is second nature, but do not forget about livestock. This can be a difficult time for animals and there are several areas that you should pay careful attention to.

Winter shelter requirements vary depending on how far north you are. Cattle are comfortable in temperatures around freezing. As temperatures fall below freezing and snow or other moisture occurs, cattle will need extra care to keep warm and functioning. Most cattle in Missouri can make do with windbreaks or a roof and windbreak. A wooded area is often adequate for this purpose.

The 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 any heat provided by the animals to dissipate. Cattle with access to a building that is too small or with
inadequate airflow will build up excess heat. This will cause them to get warm and increase the moisture in the air. This "steaming” of the cattle is perilous when they are forced to leave the shelter for food and water.

Strive to keep the temperature in the shelter the same as or near the outside ambient temperature. It is best to provide 25 sq. ft. per head of well-ventilated shelter space. For animals in a drylot area, mounds can also serve as shelter. Mounds will provide an area for the animals to get away from mud as the ground thaws and also allow for windbreaks. They should have a 30% to 50% slope.

Special challenges for young calves. Fall calving herds can present some unique calf-sheltering issues during the winter months. Fall calving can be a great management strategy in areas with the proper temperature range, such as southern Iowa and Missouri. These calves, however, need extra attention during a hard winter. It is a wise idea to unroll bedding, such as straw, cornstalks or hay, on the harshest of nights.

Calf shelter houses with creep gates or low bars will allow only animals below a certain level to gain entrance. Keeping the mothers away allows for smaller shelter houses and protects calves from being injured by overcrowding. A practice I utilize is to offer the calves a sanctuary in which to eat. A creep pen with high-quality hay allows them to forage without competition from the cows.

Water access. One of the most neglected nutrients during winter is water. Keeping waters open in freezing weather is a top priority. Insufficient space for animals to drink, low flow rates and low storage capacity discourage water consumption.

A 500-lb. animal on a 40°F day will drink about 5 gal. of water. The size of the pen will determine the amount of trough space that is needed. Allow 2' of water tank perimeter for every 25 head if cattle drink throughout the day; 2' per head if the herd drinks at once.

For pasture or range systems, use water tanks with capacity of at least a one-day supply. Range cattle usually all drink within a short period of time once or twice per day, so the watering system (pump, pipe diameter, reservoir, etc.) needs to be able to supply the herd's entire supply within four hours. Intensive grazing units can exist on smaller water systems, as cattle closer to water will drink in smaller groups.

DAN GOEHL, DVM, and his wife own Canton Veterinary Clinic in Canton, Mo., working with stocker and cow–calf beef operations. E-mail questions and comments to

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