Producers are encouraged to have a plan
Every season on the farm brings its own set of management challenges. Now is the time for producers to assess their herd’s readiness.
Feed and Water:
Winter feed and water management is a little different than in warmer months. Eldon Cole, livestock field specialist with the University of Missouri Extension, advises producers to assess their water supply, whether it be a freeze-proof source, regular trough or a pond.
“Water is the most necessary nutrient and it needs to be in an adequate supply for all the herd,” Cole said. He recommends producers have a plan for pond sources so cutting ice is not required, or at least minimized.
Monitor water sources closely once freezing temperatures hit. If using automatic waterers, check daily to avoid catastrophe. If a heater quits or a lid doesn’t close properly waterers can freeze up fast. With electric waterers or tank heaters, be watchful for shorts or bare wire. Stray voltage of only a few volts can cause cattle not to drink, experts with the Oklahoma State University Extension cautioned.
Reagan Bluel, field specialist in dairy with MU Extension, also advised producers to evaluate their herd’s feed sources for amount and quality.
“One winter best management practice that I always recommend is hay testing and inventory. If producers haven’t yet, they should test forage to allow them to feed strategically, saving the best forage quality for peak milk to reduce reliance on purchased feed,” she said.
Local extension field specialists can assist with determining cattle’s specific nutritional needs based on their class. To conserve valuable nutritional resources, plans should be made to minimize waste.
“Develop a plan to save hay,” Cole advised. “Unrolling only what they’ll need is important. If you do use bale rings, have a good one that provides an eating place for all cows.”
Producers should bear in mind hay rings are not meant to stay in the same place all winter and should be moved frequently to avoid muddy, unsanitary conditions that can create health problems. Finally, bear the temperature in mind at feeding time.
“Wind chills in the teens or below will require extra amounts of total digestible nutrients (TDN) to just maintain weight. If it’s damp and the cows’ hair is wet it’s even more critical to supplement,” Cole said.
While having a weather-tight barn that can house the whole herd would be helpful, it may not always be practical. While cattle don’t necessarily need a snug barn to get through the winter, they do need at least some rudimentary shelter or windbreaks, especially if there are young calves in the herd.
Solid or semi-solid fences, trees or brush areas are usually adequate. Three-sided sheds are better, but must be cleaned out occasionally to avoid other problems, according to Oklahoma State University.
“Also, constructing wind breaks in sacrifice paddocks will concentrate nutrients in one area while disrupting existing forage stands to allow for a better forage establishment of an annual followed by a perennial species in the fall,” Bluel said.
Parasites don’t take a break just because the temperatures drop.
“Lice can be a problem in the winter if preventive measures haven’t been used. Now is a good time to install a back rubber or apply a pour-on pesticide,” Cole advised. “Too many folks wait until March to take action against lice.”
Fescue foot can be an issue this time of year, and producers should keep a close eye out for limping animals, especially if the affliction is in the rear hooves. Scours is another winter health concern, but management strategies can be implemented to reduce the risk.
“Save some stockpiled pasture and use pasture rotation to follow the Sandhill’s System to prevent scours. In this system, heifers and cows that haven’t calved yet are moved to a clean, fresh pasture and those that have calved stay behind. This movement reduces the scour problem.”
He also recommends a vaccination for scours, especially for heifers. Observing cattle’s body condition score (BCS) can also aid in keeping them healthy over the winter.
“Body condition score cattle now and watch over the next month or so to see if they’re losing condition. I’d suggest using your camera to document condition on a few selected animals,” Cole suggested.
Wintertime cattle care can be a real chore, but with some planning and preparedness, producers can keep their cattle in good condition through the cold months.