How Can We Keep our Cattle Healthy and Happy Through Winter: 12 Ways
Intense cold weather can leave cattle struggling. They may have trouble putting on weight or maintaining their normal milk production. Further, cold weather can leave them stressed as they struggle to go about their normal activities.
But frigid temperatures don’t have to be a miserable time for cattle. In fact, there are many ways you can keep your livestock happy during the worst of winter. By keeping them happy, they’re also more likely to be healthy and healthy animals produce more for their farm or ranch.
There are following ways to keep cattle healthy and happy through winter:
1. Always have Water Available:
Cattle often struggle to get enough water during the winter. Water sources can freeze or are impossible to get to because of snow, ice or mud. Veterinarians say that each day cattle need between 1 and 2 gallons of water per 100 pounds of weight. That makes water an important resource in any weather condition, winter or not.
A livestock manager may assume that cattle can eat snow or lick ice to reach their normal limit, but that’s simply not the case
Doing so would take hours and reroute valuable body heat, leaving little time or energy to feed and grow.
Since dehydrated cattle are more at risk for colic and impaction, it’s important to maintain their water uptake and keep them healthy.
The easiest solution is to install tank heaters in their water sources. When you do, make sure to follow manufacturer instructions to avoid accidental shocks or fires.
If you can’t use a heater, be able to provide unfrozen water several times a day and in multiple locations.
By ensuring a regular water source, even when the temperature plummets below freezing, your cattle will continue to thrive a key sign of a happy animal.
2. Feed Them Enough of the Right Feed:
Do cattle get cold? They do if they aren’t fed well enough! That’s why it’s important to maximize food delivery during cold weather. Without enough energy, they can’t generate enough body heat, their core temperature drops and death could follow.
To keep your cattle well-fed and happy during the winter, there are a number of options.
The easiest, but often most expensive option, is to switch to a feed with increased nutrients. These premium feeds deliver guaranteed nutrients, including fat and protein, but can wreak havoc on the profits of your operation.
Another option is to finds ways to feed cattle while limiting waste. Avoid scattering feed hay on the ground whereas much as 50% of it can go to uneaten. Instead, deposit hay in a hay feeder or other similar shelter.
Hay helps a cow produce the energy she needs to stay warm and happy. If she doesn’t have enough hay, the weight will fall off of her.
This is because the fermentation and breakdown of the cellulose in the hay create energy.
High-quality alfalfa may provide plenty of nutrients, but alone, it won’t provide enough roughage for your cow to stay warm.
You may not know it, but cows shiver. If they get that cold, they are burning calories like mad. You need to avoid that. Give them plenty of hay.
Just so you know, a cow’s energy needs to increase by anywhere from 17-50 percent after giving birth, so there’s a starting point for you.
Next, consider the temperature. A cow in a good physical condition that has acclimated to winter by growing a good coat is good to go on regular winter rations until she reaches her critical temperature.
The temperature is around 20-30 degrees F. At that point, she’s burning fat to keep warm and you need to increase her feed in order to keep getting milk. A rough rule of thumb is to increase her rations by 1 percent for every 2 degrees below the critical temperature.
Once the temperature drops below zero, she may be eating up to a third more than she would at 50 degrees just to maintain her body heat.
Your best option pays off the most. Try to maintain a few fields of cold-hardy grass that your cattle can graze through the winter, even with snow on the ground. Early in the season, use rational grazing to section off a paddock or two with your electric fencing. In it, grow a tall, highly nutritious grass that will peak out from under heavy snow.
If you have tested your forage, you have a better idea of what you need for a mineral program if your hay is short on selenium, copper or other important minerals.
3. Provide proper shelter:
Most animals need some shelter during the winter months, however, their natural winter coats allow them to endure cold temperatures. Providing shelter or windbreaks that can be easily accessed by animals is key.
Recommends the following factors to consider when evaluating the housing of your animals:
Is there adequate ventilation to help dispel respiration gasses and manure odor? Depending on the type of barn you have, there are various ways the barn can be ventilated. Ridge vents are more prevalent in newer barns and are based on the premise that heat rises. Older barns may require opening doors or windows to allow for air circulation.
Poorly ventilated spaces can cause irritation in the animals’ lungs and lead to respiratory infections such as pneumonia. If you notice condensation on walls or ceilings, that is a good indication your air isn’t ventilating enough for the number of animals occupying the space. You will need to adjust accordingly.
Dry bedding areas:
Dry bedding provides insulation from cold the ground and helps decrease the number of energy animals use to keep them warm. There are many options for bedding you can use; straw, wood shavings, and cattle, in particular, you can use corn stover or similar crop residues for cows and bulls.
4. Avoid Mud:
Winter mud hits cattle in two ways.
First, mud is the perfect breeding ground for foot rot and thrush.
Secondly, it can be challenging for cattle to stay warm when they are checked in mud, even if the mud is only on their legs.
To keep cattle happy in the winter, address your mud issue by adding gravel or woodchips to muddy areas. You may also benefit from rotational grazing to limit the chances of an overgrazed pasture turning into mud. Your electric fencing can also be used to allow muddy fields an opportunity to recover.
5. Assist pregnant cattle:
Pregnant cattle should be carefully monitored throughout the winter. Check with your veterinarian about any specific vaccinations they may need to keep them healthy through the winter including nutritional supplements and deworming.
Pay special attention to them through harsh weather, too. They need to be shielded from extreme temperatures and they have easy access to food and water, regardless of how deep the snow is. Remember a healthy, well-fed mother is going to pay big dividends later on.
In fact, segregating pregnant cows into paddocks for close monitoring is always helpful. Doing so allows you to provide them with the right nutrition, water, and shelter. Also, it keeps them close as they approach their due date. That allows you to be on the scene and properly equipped to help during the delivery.
Consult your vet regarding what you need for your cattle. Make sure your vaccination program is up to date and proper protocols lined out for what you are giving. You need a plan for timing vaccination if you use scour vaccines ahead of calving.
Some of these can be given in the fall with your other vaccinations, and then a booster closer to calving for optimum antibody levels in colostrums. Your veterinarian can help you figure out what might be best for your own operation.
Adequate winter nutrition and good health management are nearly inseparable. Without adequate nutrition, vaccines and other health products aren’t as effective. And without a strong herd health program, all the groceries in the world won’t keep health problems at bay.
7. Bio-security, clean environment:
Bio-security is as important in winter as well as summer, even if cows are not commingling with other cattle at pasture or don’t have fence-line contact with other cattle.
You still need to think about bio-security, especially if you share hired help with another ranch, or have extra people coming to help you feed, or during calving season. People may bring pathogens from one ranch to another.
For example, if you are helping at a neighbor’s place and there are some sick calves there and you simply go back to your barn and pens because you are calving, too. You may be bringing disease home.
It helps if you can keep corrals and barns clean. If you are dealing with a sick animal, make sure you are washing your boots afterword and not just with water. Use a good soap or disinfectant every time you leave that area.
Coccidiosis disease and several others can readily occur when cattle are confined in a dry-lot situation and commingling several groups.
Parasite control is also important, such as delousing all cattle before they go into winter. Many cattle also need to be dewormed, so they are not carrying a heavy load of internal parasites through winter, robbing nutrition.
You will want to know the best time of year for deworming, and which parasites to target; this may vary depending on where you are. It may also depend on whether your cattle are on wet pastures all summer or out on dry rangeland.
9. Calf Hutches and calf jackets:
Calves are often kept in hutches or individual pens, which have clean and dry bedding for them to nestle in and doors that may be temporarily shut to protect them from cold weather and wind.
Many farms also use calf jackets to help calves conserve heat and stay warm, much like we put on coats to keep warm.
10. Keep cattle comfortable:
Beyond all the efforts listed above, there are additional ways to bring comfort to your cattle wintertime or not.
- Milking cows can be soothed and comforted with udder cream to relieve cracked and sore skin.
- Providing sand beds for resting cows helps ease the stress on knee and hocks. Some ranchers have gone a step beyond sand beds, installing sloped water beds to ease body stress and increase comfort.
- Bedding material is also helpful, especially if cows are wet and it’s cold out.
- Another simple solution to increase comfort is to give your cows space such as extra bed spaces and spaces for feeding. By keeping your herd size at the appropriate level for your capacity, your cattle will be far less stressed and produce better for you.
Most barns are equipped with the curtain that may be manually raised or lowered to protect cows from cold weather and whipping winds.
12. Protect her teats:
Just like our delicate lips, faces, and hands get chapped in the cold, so do a cow’s teats.
It’s extremely important that you make sure that her teats are dry when she leaves the milking stall or feed area, and you should also provide windbreaks around the barn too.
Bag balm is called that for a reason. It helps soothe bags and teats that may be moderately irritated.
Dip teats before milking and after milking. Through it adds a few seconds to the process, it’s worth it because it really does help reduce mastitis both directly by killing bacteria and because chapped, cracked teats inhibit the milking from dropping, which leads to infection.
Use germicidal dips that also contain 5-12 percent skin conditioners. Don’t wash them because that washes off the natural protective oils, and make sure that teats are dry before they leave the milk shed.
Warm well-cared-for cows are happy, healthy cows who give lots of milk. If she’s stressed so much by being cold or is so cold that she uses all her energy staying warm, or if her teats are chapped and sore, she’s not going to give good milk.
- National Cattlemans Beef Association
- Ohio Cattlemans Association
- United States Cattlemans Association
- Purebred Dairy Cattle Association
- American Dairy Association
- Holstein Association