Tips about feeding cattle during cold, wet weather

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While East Texas winters are very typically mild compared with the rest of the nation, here are some considerations for helping livestock through the next severe cold snap.

I heard from a wise cattleman that cows can take the cold and cows can take being wet, but you have to take care of them when it gets really cold and they are completely wet. While very few have barn space for their entire herd, below are some ways to assist cattle and help them cope with the elements.

Providing shelter from wind is obvious. Wind chill can worsen stress from a cold rain. A well-ventilated building, stack of big bales, woods, brush, fencerows, and hollows are all potential windbreaks.

Reduce muddy conditions if possible. Mud robs just as much body heat as a rain. When feeding hay, rotate your location to avoid severe mud. Provide access to water so that they don’t have to wade through mud.

Additionally, try not to haul cattle when it is cold and wet. If possible, avoid loading and transporting during rain and extreme cold. Common sense, I know, but it happens too frequently.

Increase the nutrition. I know we get into a routine for winter feeding; however, during times of extreme cold, you need to tweak your regimen.

While a cow typically consumes about 2.5% of her body weight daily, that may increase to 3.5% in inclement weather. I’ve heard folks say that poor quality hay will keep a cow warm in the winter. That’s true, but the total energy level required by a cow will certainly increase and good quality hay, cubes or other feed will certainly be needed.

And why should we do this? The results are producing better cattle by being better conditioned.

Most savvy ranchers know their herd’s condition and expect to lose a little condition during the winter. This winter, with hay in short supply, makes that a bigger issue. There is a “Body Condition Score” index from 1 to 10. A score of 1 is severely emaciated to the point where you can see the skeletal outline, and 10 is excessive, bulging fat. A moderate rating of 5 means that you can see only the last two ribs.

Take a hard look at your cows. Research and years of experience tells us the ideal is from a body condition score of 4 (where they will still breed and produce) up to a 6, where you are not wasting feed.

We need to care for cattle over these upcoming hardest months in the year in such a manner that we don’t drop down to a very thin, poor herd.

It doesn’t take much of a predictor to see we’ve got a few months of cold, wet weather ahead. Here’s wishing you lots of good hay and cows that are almost too fat.

Shaniqua Davis is the county extension agent for agriculture and natural resources for Wood County. Her email address is shaniqua.davis@ag.tamu.edu

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