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Tips for cold weather cattle management

South Dakota State University Published on 11 January 2011

Winter can pose a number of specific challenges to producers who raise cattle, but proper management can help lessen the impact of cold weather.

That’s according to South Dakota Cooperative Extension Beef Specialist Cody Wright, who advises all beef producers to consider cold-weather steps as weather continues to bring snow, winds, and low temperatures.

“Among the first things producers can do is to address their lots and land, and look for opportunities for windbreaks,” Wright said. “They can utilize bedding, and figure in more bedding materials, because cold weather increases maintenance requirements in general. This is especially true with thinner animals.”

Wright said wet, windy weather make the changes in cattle performance more dramatic, and that conditions like those lead to increased dry-matter intake.

“At 10 degrees Fahrenheit, cows need about 3.5 to 4 pounds of extra hay daily, or 2 to 2.5 pounds of grain,” Wright said. “When temperatures drop to 10 degrees below zero, that figure can double, and cows will need 7 to 8 pounds of extra hay or 4 to 6 pounds of extra grain each day to maintain internal temperatures against the elements.”

Wright said that allowing free-choice access to good quality hay should generally solve most cold-weather related intake issues.

“The cows will adjust their intake accordingly as temperatures decrease. However, it is also a good idea to feed in the afternoon because the maximum heat production from fermentation occurs 4 to 6 hours after the feed is consumed,” he said. “Feeding in the afternoon allows this heat production to be used when temperatures are lowest.”

Wright can help South Dakota beef producers develop management practices that will offset the challenges of cold weather. To get questions answered, call him at 605-688-5448 or contact an extension livestock educator through your county’s extension office.