A warm and dry fall has eased many producers into a good position for winter. But weather changes happen quickly and cattle producers should be ready to respond quickly to cattle comfort needs, says Warren Rusche, Extension beef specialist at South Dakota State University. Watch these four areas to improve cattle well-being during weather challenges:
1. Wind Protection
Reducing wind speed from 20 mph to 5 mph or less will reduce cows’ maintenance energy requirements by as much as 30%. Temporary wind-breaks are well-suited for feedlots because they can be removed during the summer months when maximum air movement is needed.
Providing bedding during extreme winter weather conditions can improve calf gains. Researchers from the Carrington Research Extension Center in North Dakota found cattle that were provided bedding had an increase 0.86 lb. of average daily gain more than non-bedded cattle. They also had increased carcass weights and a greater percentage grading Choice.
The type of crop residue used can also affect performance. There was a tendency for calves bedded with corn stalks to consume less dry matter from the ration compared to cattle bedded with wheat straw, resulting in slower gains in those calves. If producers have both straw and corn stover available, there might be an economic benefit to dedicating straw supplies to bedding and using the corn stover as a roughage source.
3. Water and Feed Delivery
Extreme cold temperatures can test the limits of both people and machines. Delivering feed timely and keeping water available during winter storms is critically important to maintaining animal performance. Feed intakes tend to increase during cold temperatures, but inclement weather, severe cold stress and wind chill can make cattle reluctant to leave shelter to come up to the bunk or feeder. Any adjustments made to feed deliveries should be made conservatively to avoid digestive upset. Rations based on large amounts of low-quality roughage might need to be adjusted to ensure energy intake is adequate.
4. Pen Maintenance
Remove as much snow build up as possible from pens and lots. This will reduce the amount of mud when snow melts and will let the pen dry faster. Removing snow and ice from around waterers and bunk lines will improve footing for cattle and equipment.
Note: This story appears in the November/December issue of Drovers.