Britt Whitt: Winter Cattle

Blowing snow and colder temperatures brings stress to both producers and their cattle. This time of year most cattle herds in our region have adequate hair coats to deal with most winter storms. Concerns for the producer come in the form of wet storms, wind, and feed. Cattle are actually quite good at protecting themselves from the Ides of Winter. Producers can put some easy methods in place to help their cattle out. Early storms are certainly worth being worried about, cattle and all livestock gradually build a hair coat going into the winter that protects them from wind and snow. The horror we watched shake The Dakotas in our recent memory can attest to this. This time of year though, most cattle that have been out, are acclimated to the oncoming snowy months. High winds and wet snows, or rainy conditions, can set any of us up for failure.

As producers what can we do? A cow in my mind is literally a little walking furnace. Her rumen is cranking out a whole lot of energy and warmth. A well fed cow is a warm cow. Having cows on good winter feed, pasture, stubble, aftermath, or hay will help keep her rumen cranking and help keep her warm. Wind protection is huge, we all know when we step out of the front door and the wind is blowing we want to go back in for another coat. Giving cows wind protection helps lower their energy requirements, ie less feed needed. Wind breaks come in all shapes and sizes, a big bluff, trees, a constructed wooden fence, anything to block calories from literally blowing away. My only words of caution in this are that tree windbreaks, specifically pine tree windbreaks can cause later heartbreak. Pine needle abortion does certainly happen, usually in cattle that hole up in pine windbreaks for long periods of time and start picking at pine needles. If you know of areas in your operation that this may be a problem, calling cattle out, and feeding them hay may very well serve your future calf crop well.

What else can we do? What you have always done! Watch your cows, watch their body condition scores. They’ll bellar way before they are truly hungry. Be prepared, which can really be hard on new operations or places we aren’t familiar with. “Prepare for the worst and hope for the best” comes to mind when thinking of cows in winter. If it is at all possible consider grouping cows on body condition, poorer cows obviously need shipped or need more energy input. Choose what’s right for your operation. Read the almanac, cuss the weather, feed your cows, and hug your family. After all it’s the season to be thankful that we get to do this, what a blessing for all of us.