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Southern Plains Perspective Blog Helps Cattle Producers Prepare Herds for Winter

Fri, 17 Sep 2021 13:17:19 CDT

Southern Plains Perspective Blog Helps Cattle Producers Prepare Herds for Winter In this blog post Clay Pope talks about low temperatures and how cattle producers can prepare their herds for the cold. See this blog on the Southern Plains Perspective website by clicking or tapping here.

It’s hard to think about cold weather right now. For the next week the high temperature in my part of Oklahoma is supposed to be in the low to mid 90’s. When you’re sweating in the heat, putting a lot of thought into how your operation will deal with freezing weather often doesn’t rise to the top of the list of priorities. That said, the worst time to prepare for a blizzard is when the snow if falling-conversely the best time to get ready for cold weather is when the warm sun is out. Never forget that just last year part of the region was hit with an October ice storm that threw many of us for a loop. The weather can change in a hurry and often not for the better.

So, with that in mind, we thought the time would be right to share with you a few tips to consider as we transition from the high temps of summer to the colder winter months. If you’re going to have cattle out this winter, here are few things to consider:

Take Stock of Body Conditions
One of the best ways to reduce cold stress in cattle is to improve body condition scores. Having a good body condition score going into winter does two things. First, a cow in body condition score 5 or 6 has a layer of fat insulation helping her conserve body heat. Second, cows in good body condition likely have a good diet, which can result in nice, warm winter hair coats.

Make Sure You Have Adequate Feed and Water
A cow will eat around 20 percent more during cold weather so make sure you have enough feed and water. Before temperatures drop, increase the amount of feed you’re putting out. Provide additional hay or offer 20 percent more cattle feed in the bunk.

Increasing intake will increase the amount of fermentation in the rumen, and one of the biggest waste products of fermentation is heat. If you give your cows more energy and get more forage into the rumen, more fermentation happens and more heat is produced. The process helps keep cows warm from the inside out.

Make sure you have planned for freezing weather when it comes to water-keep hoses thawed, have a plan for breaking ice or maintaining water flow in ponds and creeks and/or winterize stock tanks.

Separate Thin Cows
Thin cows mixed with the rest of the herd probably won’t get the nutrition they need to maintain or gain body condition. Separate thinner cows - young or old - to help take off feeding pressure. Once separated, make sure cows have plenty of forage and access to cattle mineral and cattle supplements.

If you can’t separate thin cows, feed free-choice cattle supplements like a protein tub to give those cows access to feed at all times. Free-choice cattle supplements also provide a less competitive atmosphere than group-feeding protein cubes or hand-fed feeds.

Put Up Windbreaks
It’s important to remember that wind chill affects cattle just like it affects people. Its best to keep cattle out of the wind as much as possible. You can put up a homemade windbreak, create one out of bales or install a permanent windbreak. You can also feed in wooded areas to provide shelter from the wind.

Provide Cattle Minerals and Supplements
Cattle mineral is vital during cold weather because it impacts a cow’s metabolic process. When cows are short on mineral, their metabolisms slow down. Providing mineral and supplements can also lead to better forage digestibility. A cow’s rumen microbes have mineral requirements and can also benefit from supplementation. Supplementing ramps up rumen microbes so they can digest more forage. The microbes can also get 25 or 30 percent more energy out of the forage they’re eating.

Keep a Clean Environment
Things get muddy in the winter. Mud reduces the insulation factor of a cow’s hair coat, and a cow’s lower critical temperature goes up as a result. For instance, if a cow is clean and dry, she may be okay down to 5 degrees Fahrenheit. If a cow is dirty, her lower critical temperature may go up to 20 degrees Fahrenheit. Make sure cows have plenty of space and move hay rings and feed bunks to limit muddy areas. The cleaner cows stay, the better insulation their hair will provide.

Break Routine
We tend to feed cattle on a routine. We put out a set amount of cattle feed per day because we think that’s what the herd should need. We need to pay close attention to temperature and watch cattle closely. When you know it will be cold for the next few days, increase the feed offered at least 24 hours in advance to give cows a head start. Feeding cows after the storm is helpful, but the impact is greater when they are fed before.

Some of you, I’m certain, are saying “well that’s just all common sense. Of course, we will have plenty of feed and water for the winter.” Believe me, I know that none of the above counts as groundbreaking information. But as anyone who has lived in the southern plains can tell you, weather can change around here in a hurry. It never hurts to give a little thought into extreme weather preparation.
An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.

Read more from Southern Plains Perspective by clicking or tapping here.

Listen to episodes of the Southern Plains Perspective podcast by clicking or tapping here.

The blog deals with climate change, the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report that was released recently and the role research, specifically LTAR, can play in helping Agriculture deal with what's heading our way.



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