Ag Biz News Column
County Extension Agent –Ag/NR
Cold Weather Livestock Stewardship
Cold weather can be stressful to our livestock just as it can be to us. Cold weather livestock stewardship is something farmers and ranchers spend a great deal of time on this time of year. Farmers and ranchers do not get a day off work just because it is icy or there is snow on the ground.
Livestock require energy, protein, minerals, and vitamins in their diets. Many factors affect the amounts of required nutrients for our livestock species. Body size, environmental conditions, rate of gain, distance to travel for feed and water, stage of gestation, and level of production can be factors to help decide the amount of nutrients required.
Forage analysis can be a tool to help determine the nutritive value of the hay as a feed source. Cattle can then be separated into groups by stage of production. This allows managers to control feeding to specific groups providing extra supplementation where necessary to meet the group of livestock’s nutritional needs. Many producers supplement their livestock with various feed rations, cubes, and bulk feed blends to name a few all to help provide for the nutritional requirements of specific herds.
Old and new livestock are at the greatest risk when extreme winter conditions prevail. Keeping adequate forage and supplementation out is important. Livestock should be allowed to consume enough forage to get their fill each day during these cold conditions. Forage digestion will generate heat. Some strategically feed to take advantage of this ‘internal heat’ during the cold nightly temperatures.
Livestock can tolerate cold conditions with a good winter coat, adequate body condition, and a little shelter from the north wind. It may be necessary to move livestock to areas with shelter such as trees, around barns or buildings, etc. especially during wet and cold conditions. A wet coat on thin animals provides little insulation. Body condition during winter months is very important as well.
Water is another key during these cold conditions. Cold conditions may limit water consumption. If livestock are restricted in water consumption the result will usually be a reduction in feed consumption. It may be necessary to break ice on water troughs or stock tanks to allow livestock access to the water. Some situations may allow for installing heaters in the water trough where possible.
When feeding hay, each manager will decide what works best for their operation. Some provide hay using hay rings allowing the cattle to gather up around and consume the forage. Some feed hay in rings as a convenience factor meaning the hay may not be fed each day but replaced as the cattle consume the forage to a certain level in the hay ring. Managers will still drive by in-between feeding hay to check the herd. Feeding losses are another important factor when deciding which method to use on each operation.
Other managers unroll hay in the field allowing livestock to spread out and consume the hay. The key to unrolling hay is to feed what the animals will consume in a day to avoid loss. Too much hay unrolled can result in losses and livestock using it for bedding. Too little hay does not meet the livestock’s nutritional needs. Unrolling hay also requires more labor as it will need to be fed daily rather than in rings. Some use the daily feeding as a time to check on their cow herd as they feed them. Both methods work and it is up to the manager to decide which is best for each operation.
In some cases producers feed hay in bunks, troughs, wagons, overhead racks, or other creative methods to insure the nutritional needs are met while reducing forage losses in the process. The number of animals and size of the operation will also factor in when deciding on various methods of feeding livestock in winter months.
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