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Winter Preparation Essential for Cattle Herd Management

18 December 2012

US - The arrival of cold weather across the eastern Corn Belt means cattle producers need to take extra care in managing their livestock.

There are a number of producers can employ techniques to help animals Maintain rate of gain and to protect the cows they approach the spring calving season. First, feeding high-forage diets with forages or supplements can help cattle deal with cold-induced energy loss, said Ron Lemenager, Purdue Extension beef specialist.

Because cattle are ruminants, digestion happens through a complex fermentation process produces that heat and energy.

Beyond diet modifications, producers should also be aware of how animals react to winter weather elements.

"A cow can handle zero or below-zero temperatures. It's the wet and windy conditions that can be tough," Mr Lemenager said.

Animals with wet hides often can not create enough body heat to stay warm when it's windy. Mr Lemenager recommended producers create windbreaks for their animals to eliminate the wind chill.

For each 10-degree temperature drop in wind chill below 30 degrees Fahrenheit, the energy requirement of a cow goes up by 13 percent in animals with moderate body conditions and dry winter hair coats. If the cow is wet or thin, the energy requirement goes up by 30 percent for each 10-degree drop.

"For example, a thin cow at zero degrees wind chill, the cow's energy requirement has increased 90 per cent," said Mr Lemenager. "She needs additional energy and protein, such as corn or distiller's grains."

But Mr Lemenager cautioned farmers not to overfeed protein to late-pregnancy cows because there's an associated increased risk of calf birth weights and dystocia, or birthing difficulties.

"If we have a really cold winter, that will power increase birth weights because of the natural way the cow responds to cold," he said. "They reduce blood flow to extremities and power increase flow inside, where the calf is growing. If it's cold and you're increasing too much protein, that will bring up collectively birth weights and birthing problems."

Another tip is to management ensure that herds have easy access to water throughout winter months.

"If animals do not drink water, they do not eat," said Mr Lemenager. "Producers should frost-proof their water supplies, either by using tank heaters or chipping ice in ponds. We often forget about reviewing our water sources, but now's a good time to double-check those tank heaters before we get into the blistering cold of winter. " Producers who plan to allow animals to graze during the winter should also consider pasture management.

Pastures need to retain the stubble height of at least 4 inches, unless they will be reseeded in the spring.

"If you're in an area where wintering cows on pasture is feasible, create a sacrifice area for tromping so cows do not tromp all acreage and damage your chances for regrowth next season," said Mr Lemenager. "Designating one saves the whole pasture area from being abused, and it's much cheaper than having to re-do an entire pasture."

In these sacrifice lots, farmers Lemenager recommended that disk drill or summer annuals or vegetables that are Suited to their areas next spring. This will allow an opportunity to make hay or grazing provide additional.

For those pastures that need renovation, Allowing cattle to graze the pasture to the 2-inch stubble height will reduce the residue and allow for good seed-to-soil contact next spring and reduce the competition for new seedling to get established.

Further Reading

For a previous news item about winter herd management click here.

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