The days are getting shorter, the nights are getting colder and it’s just about time to settle in for a long winter. While you may wish you could hibernate until spring, or at least spend as much time out of the elements as possible, it’s important you take care of a few important tasks before winter truly takes hold. Doing these chores now will pay off significantly come spring, when you have a healthy herd that’s ready for calving and the market.
During the colder months, cattle tend to lose weight because they use energy to stay warm. For that reason, plan for the winter months and ensure you have the right mix of food to keep the animals at a healthy weight until the spring. In general, cows with normal winter hair coats need about 30 percent more feed when they are exposed to wind-chill temperatures below freezing; cows that graze tend to be more tolerant to the cold than those on feed lots, but even so, nutritional requirements increase. Pregnant cows or underweight cows require even more feed. Take time to understand your herd’s nutritional needs before the winter and plan accordingly; you may need to begin supplementing with morning hay, for example, to account for the fact the animals will wait until a warmer part of the day to graze and thus may not eat enough each day.
The typical herd can withstand temperatures that would drive even the hardiest person indoors. But leaving your cattle outdoors to brave the elements without any protection as they graze will lead to weight loss and other problems. Limiting the influence of wind chills decreases the cows’ energy requirements, keeping your costs contained. Before the snow flies, consider adding windbreaks or rain shelters to keep your herd warm and dry throughout the season.
Cows that are lactating generally need supplemental nutrition during the colder months to make up for the nutrients lost due to staying warm and different feed mixes. If you have calves that were born in the spring, be sure they are fully weaned before the winter. For those calves born in the fall, consider early weaning to reduce the costs associated with supplementing and the stress on the cows.
During the summer months, cattle that are out to pasture can pick up harmful parasites that can cause serious health problems, including low weight gain, during the winter months. Taking care of vaccinations and deworming cows before the winter can mitigate any problems and prevent more serious issues down the road.
It’s not just your animals that need prepping for the winter — your equipment needs to be prepared as well. Make sure your tank heaters, electric waterers and other gear are in good working condition and ready for the elements before the mercury drops to save you time and aggravation later.
Preparing to keep your cattle in good shape through the winter months will pay off in the spring when you have a healthy herd. Take steps to ensure their health and efficiency, and you’ll see bigger profits at the market.