Cattle Health: Manage Winter Cold Stress

Cattle Health: Manage Winter Cold Stress

When dealing with winter cold and trying to keep cattle healthy, follow these tips from ISU Extension beef specialists.

After a warmer than usual December and a warmer than usual first two weeks of January, the coldness of winter has finally arrived in 2012. Keeping cattle healthy and warm during times of frigid temperatures is a challenge. Iowa State University Extension beef specialists have some tips on how you can help cattle cope.

They say if you don't remember anything else, remember this: A clean and dry hair coat is essential for the animal to maintain body heat.

Beth Doran, ISU Extension beef specialist, explains that with most winter hair coats, there are longer guard hairs. These keep snow from reaching the denser undercoat that insulates the skin and muscle. If moisture reaches the skin in the winter, the animal will lose body heat. Likewise, if the hair becomes matted with mud or manure body heat will be lost. This is why a clean, dry area is essential for the animal.

Provide enough bedding, and a windbreak to shield the cattle

Providing bedding is a good way to help keep the animal dry and warmer. Both oat straw and corn stover are common bedding materials that have good absorbency.

In a North Dakota study, researchers looked at the effect of the amount of bedding (wheat straw) on the winter performance of open feedlot cattle. Bedding treatments were none, modest amount (385 lbs. per animal) and generous amount (674 lbs. per animal). Bedding increased the average daily gain, dressing percent and percentage of carcasses grading Choice. "All are good reasons to provide bedding," notes Doran.

Another way to increase warmth is to prove a windbreak. An 80% solid fence (or 20% open space) reduces wind speeds for a greater distance and spreads the snow out for faster melting. A minimum height of 10 feet for this fence is recommended for better wind control. Windbreaks can be constructed with wood, metal or forage bales.

Good nutrition and access to clean drinking water are important

"Also, don't forget the importance of good nutrition," she adds. Access to clean, fresh unfrozen water is essential for dry matter intake. As a rough rule, plan on approximately one gallon of water for every 100 pounds body weight of the animal.

Increased heat production by the animal during cold stress also requires increased energy in the diet. The energy needs of the beef animal increase one percent for every degree below 32 degrees F for a beef animal with a normal winter hair coat. "Think of what you prefer in winter weather," says Doran. "Good housing, a nice winter coat and plenty of food and drink sound pretty good. Your cattle deserve the same."
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