Winter is cold, and can be rough on everyone. With the struggles that encompass winter, it’s no wonder that sometimes cattle in the Ozarks drop in condition. But producers can keep their cattle in good shape by closely monitoring their herd, and keeping up their weight and health before it gets cold.

How Can You Tell If Cattle Are Suffering From Winter Stress? “There are several outward signs that can be good indicators of the stance of a herd’s nutritional plane. The first thing to look at is body condition score,” explained University of Missouri Extension Livestock Specialist Andy McCorkill. “When evaluating body condition score, we look at the amount of fat cover over several parts of the body. For beef cattle, we look over the back and hip bones, through the ribs, the tail head and in the brisket. Different species have different number scales but the principles are very similar. This fat cover is God’s gift to us in a way for our animals to store energy reserves for times of the year when feed is short and the days are cold.”
“Another sign I encourage folks to look at is the manure their animals leave behind,” said McCorkill said. “With cattle, we like to see manure with a consistency of pancakes, where it lies relative flat on the ground. If it starts to pile up and look more like a wedding cake, that is an indicator that the pasture or hay they are eating is has too much fiber and we need to look at supplementing with some sort of more nutrient dense source of feed, such as grains and grain byproducts or alfalfa hay.”
Be sure the hay livestock is receiving is high-quality enough to keep them in good condition. “Looking at the hay you are feeding can tell you a lot about how your animals might perform through the winter,” McCorkill said. “If it has a lot of stems and seed heads in it, that is an indicator that it was baled too mature and some added energy will be required. Of course, the best evaluation method is to test the hay you are feeding and compare its feed value to the nutritional requirements of the animals you are feeding.”

Gaining Condition Back: If your cattle do lose condition in the winter, don’t despair – there are management practices that can help you get your cows back on track.
“One often overlooked option that many times is one of the more economical options is a few pounds of alfalfa hay,” McCorkill said. “Generally, 5 to 10 pounds of alfalfa per day is what is needed to fill the gaps between lower quality hays and the beef cow’s requirements.”
During extremely cold or windy weather, cows should be given all the hay they’ll clean up, or a protein supplement on dry pastures to encourage them to eat more. As long as protein is adequate, cows can process/ferment sufficient roughage to provide energy and body heat. Access to good windbreaks during severe weather is important to reduce cold cows’ stress and energy requirements, as well.
According to information from Dave Sparks, DVM at Oklahoma State University, water is the first limiting nutrient and although daily intake goes down in cold weather, adequate consumption every day is still vital.


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