Wintering your Cattle
Jan 01, 2013
Keeping Cattle healthy through winter
Snow and high winds like most of us have been experiencing this winter are a bad combination for previously healthy unstressed cow’s & calves. Not to mention it’s pretty hard on us and our equipment too! We can always put on more clothing and have the option of going back inside to sit in front of the wood or coial stove. But to protect calves and full-grown cattle from the onset of respiratory problems, it’s advisable to keep them dry and out of the wind as best as possible. Throughout America’s Heartland, many herds remain out on winter range and pasture with little protection from the wind. Moving livestock into protected areas as soon as possible may reduce potential problems. Colder temperatures also raise nutrient requirements of both cows and calves. Extra, high quality forages will be necessary to help livestock maintain their core body temperatures and help keep their immune systems functioning properly.
Calves that are showing signs of respiratory problems should be treated and moved indoors or at the very least into a shelter type structure which provides wind protection with dry bedding to keep them up off of the frozen ground as soon as possible. The sooner calves are cared for after showing signs of sickness, the more effective the treatment will be. However, continuous use of antibiotics as a preventative treatment for respiratory problems is discouraged as drug resistance can become a problem.
Another concern producers may be experiencing is water availability for livestock as a result of freezing temperatures, no electric service, or both! After a short adjustment period, cows will consume adequate amounts of snow to meet their water requirements. Eating snow is a learned behavior rather than instinct, therefore an adjustment period is needed for the cows to learn how to eat snow. Generally it takes three days for cows to adapt to eating snow. Cattle can do well when snow is their only water source, as long as there is adequate snow present, and it is not hard or crusted over. It is important to monitor your cattle and snow conditions on a daily basis. A lack of water will reduce feed intake, and cows can lose condition very rapidly when water is deficient. If snow hardens and crusts over due to drifting, rain, or thawing and freezing, you will need to provide them with an alternative source of water. Substituting snow for water is not a cure-all, but it can buy some time until range/pasture conditions improve.
Adverse winter weather, like what those of us in the North East are experiencing this winter, can increase costs of production up to 20% or more. Whether in a feedlot or wintering pastures, proper shelter design and maintenance are crucial for keeping your cattle dry, healthy and comfortable under adverse climatic conditions. In a winter like we’re currently experiencing, cattle maintenance requirements can be over 50% greater in pens containing wet "muddy" cattle, versus dry clean cattle, causing reduced comfort and performance.
Good pen/shelter/feedlot drainage is critical for minimizing mud. The basic goal is to remove water/urine as quickly as possible from the pen with minimum erosion of soil. Ideally a 5-8% slope away from feeding areas, especially when round bale feeders without bottoms are utilized, should be maintained in the protective shelter/area. Shelter area’s should be designed so that the back of the area stays clean and open to allow drainage to discharge directly into environmentally friendly catch basins/manure holding facilities, until the accumulation of waste material can be safely spread on your fields. In some areas that could mean needing an area large enough to contain waste until spring!
Construction of concrete pads or aprons (generally 8 feet wide) along feed bunks and around water troughs eliminate much of the competition often associated with feeding areas when mud becomes a problem and good feeding spaces become scarce. Mud tends to accumulate around feeding and watering places due to the soil being worked away while cattle are in these areas. Manure & urine also tends to be concentrated in these areas adding to the mud and moisture problems.
It is essential that pens & shelter surfaces are cleaned regularly, sometimes daily, with any manure or undigested materials being removed from the animal protective area. Also, it’s okay to change to a higher roughage diet when the next snowstorm hits, to minimize overeating or acidosis, but don’t be too aggressive in making those changes. The more stable we can maintain the rumen environment, the better off our cattle will be. So start feeding better forages now so your cattle’s rumen can adjust and build up a resistance to what "Old Man Winter" is apparently only getting started to dish out. It’s going to be a loooong winter!!