Winter weather brings a unique set of challenges for beef producers and their livestock. Once again, producers throughout the Great Plains and Midwest can expect their share of heavy snow and below-normal temperatures. Harsh weather—cold, damp and windy conditions—can be as tough on cattle as it is on those charged with keeping them healthy and in good condition.
Dr. Dennis Hermesch, professional services veterinarian, Novartis Animal Health, offers several important reminders for maintaining cow health in cold winter conditions.
“Cattle generally maintain body condition with temperatures above the 30-degree range,” said Hermesch. “But when temperatures dip below freezing they need more energy to maintain their condition. In winter grazing conditions this translates to increased protein levels, so the rumen bugs can produce more energy from forages. Cows may not be able to utilize energy from forages efficiently if protein is inadequate. Producers who haven’t already should talk to their veterinarian or nutritionist to determine protein supplements needed and feed intake levels required for excessively cold conditions.”
Hermesch adds that when cattle are stressed by cold, their metabolic rate increases in order to maintain body temperature. “The effect of this is that more feed or fat reserves are used for heat production and less is available for gain,” he said. “Weekly body condition scoring can help monitor this loss. Body condition scoring 20-30 head on a random basis once weekly can be a good indicator of whether protein levels are adequate for maintenance and gain,” said Hermesch. “Adding 1.5 to 2 lbs. of crude protein per head every two days will complement marginal forages of late-winter grazing.”
Access to open water is critical as well, reminds Hermesch. “Making sure water sources are open and easily accessible to cattle is one of the most overlooked aspects of winter management,” he adds. “If cattle don’t maintain hydration levels, digestion of nutrients slows and energy production drops.”
Maintaining body condition is of utmost importance to pregnant animals, especially heifers, adds Hermesch. “Pregnant cows will use a significant amount of their energy to generate heat, rather than on the developing calf,” he said. “And when an inordinate amount of nutrients are used to produce heat, body condition begins to drop. This is especially detrimental to heifers and can lead to a reduction in the quantity of colostrum, which is one of the biggest reasons we see an increase in baby calf disease after harsh winters.”
“Working with your veterinarian and nutritionist to ensure feed and facilities are optimized for winter nutrition and cow comfort will help you to protect your herd—especially pregnant heifers and cows—from the negative affects of harsh winter conditions and set the stage for a more profitable new year,” said Hermesch.