As I begin writing this, the weather report is showing continued cold weather and some possibility for frozen precipitation. Winter season is upon us. By the time you read this, you have already turned bulls out to breed your fall herd, your spring calves are either already sold or waiting January markets, and your family is getting prepared for Christmas celebrations. But there are several things that livestock owners have to consider to maintain animal health during this time of year.
Nutrition has to be the main focus when the weather is cold. The comfort zone for cattle will drop to around 20 degrees Fahrenheit, but when you add wind or moisture, this temperature may have to be much higher or the calorie requirements can change substantially. It is important that hay be tested so livestock are fed the appropriate amount of digestible energy. Pounds of hay don’t automatically equal pounds of usable feed. This year has been good for hay production, and overall, the quality has been good. But 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 that 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 manmade shelter, remember to put down extra hay or straw so your 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, it 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 (body condition scores of 6-7 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.
As the Christmas season draws near, I would like to remind everyone to take time to thank God for all his blessings. He has blessed us all with so much, and sometimes we take it all for granted. Give thanks for your family, your home and the fact that you can live in a country like America. May each of you be richly blessed in the upcoming year.