Winter is upon us. As the weather turns colder, nutritional needs for livestock increase dramatically. There are several things livestock owners have to consider to maintain animal health during this time of year, and good nutrition should be one of the first things on that list.
Nutrition has to be a main focus when the weather is cold. The comfort zone for cattle will drop to around 20 degrees, but when you add wind or moisture, this temperature may have to be much higher or the calorie requirements can change substantially. A cow that normally needs 2.5 percent of her body weight in dry matter feed will need upwards of 5 percent if nursing a calf during cold weather. For a 1,200-pound cow, that is a difference of 30 pounds of feed every day. It is important hay be tested so livestock are fed the appropriate amount of digestible energy. Pounds of hay don’t automatically equal pounds of usable feed. Hay that may “look” good may have less than adequate nutrition. If your hay is not great quality, consider supplementation with grain or byproduct feeds. If you are not sure about the quality, have a sample of your hay tested to more accurately evaluate the nutrient content.
In addition to feed, animals need plenty of water during the winter months. Before it gets too cold, check the automatic waterers and repair them as needed. If ponds are used, remember that in freezing weather ice needs to be cut. Also, don’t forget the farm dogs and cats; make sure they have a protected water supply that is checked regularly.
Another thing to consider is shelter. Does your herd have protection from the elements? Make sure buildings used for shelter are bedded adequately to make a warm, dry place to stay. If cows are on pasture with wooded areas, now is a good time to check to make sure fallen trees and brush are removed to provide adequate space to lie down. In pastures where there is no natural or man-made shelter, remember to put down extra hay or straw so cattle have something in which to bed down. Good shelter reduces feed and hay needs because cattle are not as cold and require less to eat, protects udders from damage to teat ends leading to mastitis, and protects calves from the elements.
For those of you who have herds that start calving in January, make sure your cows are ready. Cows need to be in excellent body condition (BCS of 6 to 7 out of 9) to calve this time of year as they need energy reserves to not only feed a calf, but also to maintain themselves due to the colder weather. Supplemental feeding with high-quality legume or legume mix hay and feed may be necessary for cows to perform at peak performance.
If you are feeding calves on bottle or buckets, make sure they are getting adequate amounts of milk replacer. A calf must be eating at least 3 percent of its body weight in solids; a 100-pound calf needs a minimum of 3 pounds of solids. If milk replacer is the primary feed source and calves are not eating starter yet, that means approximately 3 pounds of powder before mixing. Calves that do not get enough calories are more prone to disease, do not gain weight and have been scientifically shown to not be as productive later in life. Warm, dry shelter with good ventilation, as always, is a must.
It can take extra time and effort to make sure livestock get fed and watered in the winter, but good quality feed now will reap benefits in both health and production for the coming year.
Dr. Mike Bloss, DVM, owns and operates Countryside Animal Clinic with his wife, Kristen Bloss, DVM. The mixed animal practice is located in Aurora, Mo.