Time To Prepare For Winter


   It is a beautiful fall so far; plus we are getting some rain finally! However, with deceasing day length and temperatures, many pastures may have already gone dormant and will not and add any new growth. Cattlemen may have an opportunity, during the periods of rain, to assess whether you are ready the upcoming winter – pastures, feedstuffs, waterers, etc.
   First, you may want to consider if you have sufficient hay stores for the number of cattle you will have on the farm. The summer was harsh for hay production. Numerous producers I have spoken to have or will be purchasing hay.  If you know you will be short on hay, you may want to consider purchasing early. If you do not know if you have enough hay to feed through winter, use the following information information.
   The daily dry matter intake (DMI) as a percent of body weight for beef cattle is 2 percent. DMI rates are estimates of how much dry matter (water component subtracted) an animal can consume in one day. Cattle do not have a DMI requirement, but rather requirements for the amount of water, protein, energy, vitamins and minerals needed for maintenance, various rates of gain and other forms of production. These nutrients must “fit” into the amount of food cattle can physically consume. 
   We’ll calculate how much hay to purchase for an 1,100 pounds (lb) beef cow for a 6 month (182 day) feeding period. Assume average quality grass hay, average weather conditions and no lactation during the feeding period. Using a DMI of 2 percent of body weight, we can estimate her daily DMI as 22 lbs of hay (24.2 lbs as fed, adding back in 10 percent water weight for hay). Multiplying this daily intake times the number of days in the feeding period, we get 4404 lbs (2.2 tons) of hay needed for this cow. 
   Now multiply this number times the number of animals needing to be fed and you have the total amount of hay required for the winter feeding period. Depending on your feeding system, you will also need to figure in an additional 10 to 50 percent as hay waste. 
   Remember to have a chemical analysis of the hay being fed. This will tell you how much hay she needs and whether she can actually consume the amount of hay required to meet her nutritional needs. You may need to supplement protein and/or energy to balance the ration. If adequate nutrition is not provided, cows will pull energy from body fat reserves to keep warm. Thus, cows must be supplied with enough protein and energy to meet their maintenance requirements, as well as additional nutrients to support growth (heifers), fetal development and lactation.
   A cow needs the correct level of nutrients to at least maintain her body weight during winter. Heading into the winter months, cows should have a body condition scoring (BCS) of 5 to 6 (where 1 is emaciated and 9 is obese). Optimally, this body condition should be maintained throughout winter, regardless of their diet. Increasing the cow’s body condition prior to winter can provide a valuable “cushion” for times of increased energy needs. Loss of too much body condition can significantly impact the following: calves may be born weak; colostrum production may be inadequate in amount and/or quality, which can compromise calf survival; and the postpartum interval may be lengthened.
   Not only do cattle need adequate feed during the winter, but it is vital that they have plenty of water available. Ensuring an adequate and dependable supply of water will encourage optimal health and performance of livestock. You can’t just rely on natural water sources because in really cold weather the water will freeze and it can take days before it thaws out. You will need to make sure that fresh water is available several times a day. Before the weather turns, check that the waterers and tank heater or de-icer are functioning properly; if parts are needed you have ample time to order, receive and repair the waterer. Follow the manufacturers’ recom mendations carefully to prevent fires and electric shocks. If you don’t use a heater, there are still some things you can do to prevent your water source from freezing such as insulating the pipes and faucets.
   When the wind picks up and the temperatures fall, livestock will need shelter. Before it gets too cold, set up shelter or windbreak areas. Wind breaks come in different forms such as barns, open sheds, tree groves, and even stacks of hay. Be sure to winterize the barn and any other shelter buildings on the farm. Inspect the roof and make sure it is stable enough to hold the heavy weight of snow and ice. Check for and repair any roof leaks.
   Closely monitor your cows daily throughout winter. Their needs may change as the temperatures fluctuate. If some start to lose weight, you can quickly intervene by providing supplemental feed. Preparing for winter, being prepared for unexpected emergencies, frequent monitoring, common sense and practical animal husbandry will bring your cattle through the winter in fine shape. ∆
   DR. TERESA L. STECKLER: Extension Specialist, Animal Systems/Beef, Dixon Springs Agricultural Center, University of Illinois
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