Supressing the effects of winter's chill

Wednesday, February 3, 2016

Freezing temperatures and snow welcomed Missouri residents into 2016. Livestock across the state were exposed to some of the coldest temperatures of the winter season during the weekend of Jan. 10.

University of Missouri Extension Livestock Specialist and County Program Director Wendy Flatt has compiled a few recommendations to survive the bone-chilling winter months.

Critical Temperature
Stocking caps, bibs and insulated boots are modeled on farms everywhere across the Midwest, in attempt to keep producers warm as they go about their chores.

"We can put more clothes on, livestock can't really do that," Flatt said.

Cattle are naturally adapted to frosty temperatures with their ability to grow hair. In the fall months, the cattle still possess their summer coat and their critical temperature is at 59 degrees Fahrenheit as found in research completed at Kansas State University. As their hair continues to grow from fall through winter, the critical temperature decreases. In dry, winter months, the critical temperature is 18 degrees Fahrenheit.

"Unfortunately, that's one thing we haven't had," Flatt offered. "We've had some cold weather, but not a lot, so that critical temperature is actually 32 degrees."

She mentions that in order for cattle to maintain their optimum body condition score as they go into calving season they will require a lot more groceries.

Increasing Energy Requirements
As temperatures dip into 10 degrees Fahrenheit, cattle's energy needs increase by 20 percent. If temperatures slip further below zero to negative 10 degrees Fahrenheit, the energy needs increase to 40 percent. This data was supplied by researchers at Kansas State University.

"So what does that mean in terms of nutritional needs," Flatt questioned. "That means producers need to feed about two to two and a half pounds (extra grain) per cow once the temperatures reaches about 10 degrees Fahrenheit, or about four pounds of hay depending on the hay quality."

There is a 40 percent increase in energy needs when outside temperatures reach negative degrees. Up to four or five pounds of extra grain is needed. Flatt agrees that four to five extra pounds of grain per head seems like a lot.

"They will need that extra feed to keep that body core temperature where it needs to be and not lose body condition," she stated.

The 2015 hay season brought in a majority of low quality product according to Flatt.

"All the hay samples I've seen this season, protein levels have been okay, (but) it's the energy that's really been lacking," she said.

Flatt urges producers to get a hay test done on their forage so they know what kind of quality they are feeding. This also lets the producer know if that hay is meeting the energy needs of their cattle. There are a few forage intake guidelines she wants farmers to take into consideration.

"This is why it's so important to know what their cows weigh," Flatt began. "...On lactating cows on medium quality forage their intake is between 2 to 2.5 percent of their body weight. That increases up to 2.5 to 3 percent if they have excellent quality forage." If producers are feeding low quality forage, cattle intake will be decreased to 1.6-1.8 percent.

"It's really important for them to either supplement that with something that's really good, like a by-product," Flatt added. "Distillers grain is very popular. I've been telling folks, if they need extra energy, do a 50/50 mid of by-products and corn."

It's important to keep in mind extra corn is not the easy answer.

"Producers also really wanna watch-out feeding too much corn because these aren't obviously going to be feedlot cattle," said Flatt.

Feeding excess corn will hamper the rumen's ability for forage digestion.

The Forgotten Nutrient
Frozen stock tanks and icy ponds have the ability to limit water intake in livestock over winter months. Water is often the forgotten nutrient in a cattle's diet. Increased hay, grain and by-products to the cow's foodstuffs will result in an heightened need for water consumption.

"Another thing producers might think about if they are watering from ponds is to make sure that the cattle can't get on the ponds," said Flatt.

Snow and frozen ponds may look like solid ground to cattle and as a result, they could fall in.

"One of the things we've kinda talked about is setting up a way to keep the cattle from getting on the pond, which is an electric hot wire," she said.

The most important thing is that the cattle have access to water but cannot accidentally wander out into the water.

One thing that Flatt likes to stress to producers is to know how much their cattle weigh.

"If you don't know exactly how much your cattle weigh, get some scales," Flatt reasoned.

Weighing your cattle frequently could help the producer save money.

"If you think your cows are 1200 pounds and they are actually 1400 pounds, you're obviously going to be under feeding, that's an issue," she said. "We're going into calving, once they start calving and lactating you can't put the weight on after it gets to that point. It's really important to know what your cows weigh so you can feed them appropriately.

Through an understanding of critical temperature, administering appropriate feed rations based on a cow's weight and supplying fresh water, producers and cattle will be able to survive yet another cold winter in Missouri.