Nov 10, 2013
Keeping Cattle healthy through winter
Snow and high winds like some of us have been experiencing this fall are a bad combination for previously healthy unstressed cow’s & calves. Not to mention it’s pretty hard on us too! We can always put on more clothing and have the option of going back inside to sit in front of the fireplace or wood 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 the Heartlands North West many herds never even made it out onto winter range and pasture before last months devastating blizzard. With little protection from the snow & wind, many ranchers found out too late how important being proactive is as compared to being reactive. Being proactive means moving livestock into protected areas as soon as possible early in the season to reduce the problems experienced last month. Colder temperatures 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 with antibiotics as soon as possible. The sooner calves are treated after showing signs of sickness, the more effective the treatment will be. Continuous use of antibiotics as a preventative treatment for respiratory problems is discouraged as drug resistance WILL become a problem. Another problem likely to arise in calves following winter storm stress is bloody scours as a result of coccidiosis. There are various feed additives that are effective against the pathogenic bovine coccidia. Contact your veterinarian for treatment recommendations.
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 water requirements. Eating snow is a learned behavior rather than instinct, therefore an adjustment period is needed for the "yearling" cattle 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 EVERYONE will be experiencing in the very near future, 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 the winter, cattle maintenance requirements can be over 50% greater in pens containing wet "muddy" cattle, versus dry clean cattle, causing reduced comfort and performance. Not to mention a lot of un-necessary chores for YOU , the producer.
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 getting ready to dish out next.