Consider feeding more as wind chill drops

Wow, winter has entered our area with a vengeance. We got a blast of 14 inches of snow last week and now it is snowing again. It looks like we will have a ‘White Christmas” for sure. Most of my clients are beginning to feed their cows and have pulled them from cornstalks and winter pasture. We must pay special attention to our gestating cows in these extreme conditions and winterize them.

As the temperature decreases the maintenance energy requirements of cattle increase. To compensate for this energy drain the cow must either eat more of the feed provided, or consume a more energy dense ration. In extreme cold weather here on the Northern Plains, I have seen cows starve although they had all they wanted of a low grade ration. The cows’ rumens were literally stuffed with roughage and they didn’t have the energy to get up. Cows will utilize body fat at the risk of weight gain, fetal development and lactation when severely stressed.

The cow’s critical environmental temperature is about 30 degrees Fahrenheit. without wind chill. If the wind chill temperature falls below 30 degrees the cow requires 1 percent more energy. A 0 degree wind chill means the cow needs a 30 percent energy increase. As you can see when the really cold snaps hit a cow will probably be unable to consume enough energy. This is not a problem if it is only a day or so, but if it lasts for a prolonged period, the cow will utilize her body reserves and lose condition.

The best way to help your cows is to provide shelter from the wind and keep the animals as dry as possible. The hair coat provides insulation for the cow when it is dry. If the coat is wet, the critical temperature for a cow is 59 degrees. At this temperature the cow needs more energy to maintain weight. This is the reason cows in a total confinement calving barn require much less ration to maintain condition. I’ve herd claims of 40-50 percent less in a sheltered building. Many of our older structures had poor ventilation and the condensation from the ceiling dripped on the cows and into the pens. This made them wet and usually compounded the problems. Newer models (hoop barns) have overcome this phenomenon.

Push snow from feeding and bedding areas. If you have bedding, use it to help provide a dry place to lay. Windbreaks decrease the wind chill temps and help minimize stress. Tree belts are excellent, but any structure will help. Some producers pull machinery (wagons etc.) into paddocks to reduce wind.

Feedlot cows tend to increase consumption in cold weather. Animals grazing reduce intake in windy conditions because they don’t move around and won’t browse through the snow foraging for feed. Fiber based energy supplements are generally recommended (bean hulls, distiller’s etc.) As forages are digested in the rumen they produce heat which helps maintain the cow’s temperature. A rule of thumb is not to feed more than 0.3 percent of body weight in corn, or other grains. For a 1,200 pound cow that would be 3.6 pounds. I have no problem with 5 pounds/cow/day if needed. This is a far cry from Grandpa’s three ears of corn per cow per day.

This winter appears to be beginning early. Monitor your cows closely to assure they maintain a BCS of 5. If you allow them to fall below this level it is almost impossible to feed enough to bring them back. Consult with your veterinarian, nutritionalist, or extension specialist to formulate a program for your herd. Poor nutrition in late gestation will result in weak calves, poor colostrum, and decreased reproduction next spring. A nutritional investment now will pay dividends for the next year in your herd.