Dealing with cold weather challenges |

Dealing with cold weather challenges

Mixed breed cattle huttle during a winter snow and freezing rain storm

Cattle producers are about to embark on another a week of record low temperatures across the Upper Midwest. While waiting for the winds to arrive, many are contemplating how much can be done to mitigate the adverse weather conditions. Even cattlemen who have experience calving in these conditions may benefit from a review of preparation recommendations as calving season continues this week.

Management Considerations


Prepare windbreaks to mitigate the wind! The temperature will be cold, and the wind will make it feel colder. Therefore, clearing snow from permeant wind breaks or creating new man-made windbreaks from hay bales, trailers or sheds will help reduce the impact of the frigid wind on cattle.


Supply ample bedding! Bedding the ground will provide warmth from the frozen ground surface, and also encourages cows to remain in the protected area. Young calves are reluctant to leave mom’s side so this will give them something warm to lay on also.


Barns can provide protection from the wind, especially for soon to calve or newly calved cows. If cattle will be closed into barns for a short period of time, 50 square feet is the minimum amount of space that should be allocated. However, for longer periods of time, 100 square feet per cow or pair is recommended. Make sure barns are ventilated to reduce condensation which could lead to wet hides and cause health problems when cattle are turned back out into the cold weather.


Feed them as much forage as they’ll eat! When cold weather hits, voluntary feed intake goes up and they will eat more to keep warm. If the forecasted weather will last more than 24 hours, start increasing forage availability 24 hours early and continue until the frigid temps have passed.


Check water sources. If tank heaters are on, make sure they are functioning properly and propane levels are full before the wind hits. Cattle will likely not consume as much water as normal, but having some available during the cold spell will help with feed intake.

Calf Checks

Increase calf checks. The polar vortex will not be a welcome sight for new calves, so increasing the number of calf checks each night will hopefully save calves from being out in the cold weather for very long. Also, have extra colostrum and calf warming boxes on hand to help warm up chilled or weak calves.


Have generators and heaters on hand just in case a tractor doesn’t start or the power goes out. Strategically placing hay close to cattle can help decrease time spent delivering feed to cows during the cold weather. Or in case something breaks and can’t be fixed right away, simply moving a temporary fence to feed cows can be valuable.

Personal Safety

Lastly, personal safety is always a concern as producers travel out in the adverse weather conditions to care for their livestock. Dress in layers, have a full tank of fuel, and always have a phone or way to communicate handy.

The Bottom Line

Don’t be afraid to ask for help as we enter the frigid winter weather season by contacting a SDSU Extension Livestock Specialist. Thank you for your efforts and warm thoughts for the winter ahead.

–SDSU Extension