Although the past few winters have been relatively mild in most cattle-feeding areas, long-range forecasts suggest this winter could bring more snow and cold weather to stress feedyard cattle.

Kansas State University Livestock Extension Specialist Lance Huck says research shows that an 800-pound steer, with a winter coat, in dry, still air can withstand temperatures as low as 32-degrees Farenheit for short periods of time without expending any additional energy to keep warm. Summarized data from feedyard trials in Canada and the northern United States have found a consistent 30-percent improvement in gain and efficiency of feedlot cattle fed during warm seasons, compared to cattle fed during the cold winter months. The best explanation, he says, lies in the increased maintenance requirement due to increased energy metabolism within the animal.

The most serious losses, Mr. Huck points out, occur with the addition of precipitation and mud. Trials from California to Canada to Texas have documented that feed required per pound of gain can increase as much as 24 percent under rainy or muddy conditions.

Recalling the severe winter of 1992-1993, Mr. Huck says the feedyards that had the most success dealing with the weather that year had several management strategies in common.

  • Waterers were winterized in early fall.
  • Blizzard management plans were discussed with employees well in advance of inclement weather.
  • Goals focused on keeping cattle dry through pen management, and warm by maximizing feed intake.
  • Pens were well maintained year round.
  • A larger than normal labor force was employed.
  • Extra equipment – front end loaders, dump trucks bunk sweepers – was on hand prior to each blizzard.
  • Crews worked around the clock, first piling, then removing snow from each pen.
  • Upper management participated first-hand in the cleanup effort.
  • Pens with new cattle were cleaned first.
  • Huddles of new cattle were "stirred" often during the blizzard to prevent trampling and suffocation.
  • Snow in feed alleys was removed, not just pushed aside.
  • Employees and their families were rewarded with overtime pay and special appreciation celebrations following the cleanup.