100% SNOW Fed?
Recent snow and ice storms, including the storm currently dumping on the Northeast coupled with power outages have been a real challenge for livestock and livestock producers. Like we really need any more challenges, especially this time of the year!
These conditions have kept a lot of livestock from getting enough drinking water. Beef cattle, for example, need 8 to 10 gallons per day. A milking dairy cow drinks about 30 to 50 gallons of water each day.
Water weighs 8.35 lbs/gal, so a milking dairy cow may consume as much as 420 pounds of water daily.
Therefore, the intake of water on a per pound basis is far greater than that of protein, carbohydrates, fats and minerals a cow consumes in what we normally think of as "ration." This means what we usually focus on (dry matter intake) accounts for only about 12% of the cow’s total nutrient intake; while water accounts for about 88%! That is why water IS the most important nutrient in a cow’s total daily intake.
Producers might be tempted to think their cattle can survive by eating snow as a water source, but even when a lot of snow is available, cattle need water.
In general, cattle do not adapt to eating snow as a water source very quickly. They can, but not overnight.
The BIG issue is that the snow is in wind-packed drifts and/or has melted and is now refrozen, you will not get most cattle breeds or many other livestock species to consume this kind of snow as it is too hard on their mouths. BEEFALO on the other hand, are very easily adaptable to breaking through hard pack snow for forages and/or water. Our Beefalo have broken through 3" of ice with their noses to get to water.
If cattle stop drinking or have severely reduced levels of water consumption, they will reduce their feed intake, and this will lead to disaster in this very cold weather. Cattle, pigs, chickens etc. need to keep eating to produce enough energy and heat to keep from suffering frostbite and hypothermia.
There are many reasons why cattle producers could consider allowing their cows to graze snow in winter for their water requirements. Lengthening the grazing season, without the need for extensive water system enhancements, is just one of the many compelling reasons. Any time you can get your cows to feed themselves it reduces winter feeding costs and improves your bottom line.
Whatever your reason, it is important to go into it with your eyes wide open, and armed with knowledge.
If snow is abundant and not icy, crusted over or packed into hard drifts, dry, pregnant cows can consume adequate amounts of snow to satisfy their water needs. It is important that you know the body condition score (level of fat reserves) of your cows. It is best to start out the winter with a body condition score above three on a scale of one to five.