Cattle are among the hardiest livestock and are well equipped to survive winter. Yet even healthy cattle can lose condition in the coldest months, putting them at greater risk for diseases, difficult pregnancies, weight loss, and lower productivity. By keeping your cattle healthy and happy through winter, you will keep your herd in top form.
How Cattle Adapt to Winter
While different breeds of cattle have slightly different seasonal adaptations, all grow thicker, longer fur in late summer and early autumn to augment their coat to survive lower temperatures. They also store layers of fat under their skin to help insulate their core and maintain body temperature. When the weather turns bad, cattle instinctively group together in a tight herd to share body heat. These physical and behavioral adaptations help cattle survive colder temperatures and winter storms, but even the healthiest cattle can still be susceptible to frostbite, hypothermia, and other dangers of the season.
Preparing Cattle for Winter
Before winter arrives, there are steps you can take to be sure your cattle are ready for the season. Every animal should have a thorough checkup, including an evaluation of its body and coat condition to ensure it is naturally prepared for winter. Vaccinations should be updated, and the entire herd should be deloused and dewormed if necessary. This will help the animals be as healthy as possible as they head into the harshest time of year.
If some of your cattle are not as healthy as they could be, it might be wise to sell or butcher the animals before winter. This will preserve resources for the healthiest animals without risking deterioration of animals that will be most affected by winter.
Keeping Winter Cattle Healthy and Happy
Winter is a tough season, but keeping your cattle healthy doesn't have to be tough if you take appropriate steps to keep the animals safe and comfortable. Here are some suggestions:
- Provide winter feed. Changing to a winter feed with higher nutrient density and extra hay will provide suitable calories for your cattle to keep their body temperatures at the right level, even when outdoor temperatures dip. Mineral supplements can also be useful to ensure the cattle are getting all the appropriate nutrition to stay healthy all winter long.
- Provide liquid water. Use tank heaters or keep fresh, liquid water available for the cattle to drink when there's a risk of freezing so they will not suffer from dehydration, low milk production, or other problems.
- Erect sturdy windbreaks. While your herd has long coats and good natural insulation, windbreaks can help keep them from getting too chilled, especially on wet winter days. Natural windbreaks of evergreen trees or brush piles are useful, or construct a three-sided, covered windbreak the animals can take advantage of whenever they feel the need.
- Change feeding times. Cattle digest their feed slowly, and it isn’t until several hours after feeding that the body heat generated from rumen digestion will peak. Feeding cattle later in the evening on cold winter days will ensure their bodies are generating the most heat during the coldest part of the night, just when they need it most.
- Move feeding areas. Rotate where you offer feed to cattle in winter to help the animals discover new areas of suitable forage after a pasture has already been used. This change of scenery will also help mentally stimulate the animals, keeping them alert and engaged, and therefore less likely to become despondent, aggressive, or otherwise ill-tempered.
- Visit Your Herd One of the best things to do for your cattle all winter long is simply to visit the herd. This not only allows you to ensure their needs are being met and to inspect the animals for signs of injuries, illnesses, or other potential problems, but helps stimulate the cattle and provides them with distraction. They will get accustomed to your visits and respond to your commands better all year long if you continue to visit and stay acquainted with them.
Like we said, cattle are winter-hardy animals. But that doesn’t mean they should simply fend for themselves all season. By covering the essentials of good winter cattle care, you can keep your herd happy and healthy even during the coldest, most challenging months of the year.
If you need nutrition or pasture management advice this season, be sure to call or stop by one of our stores. Our knowledgeable team is standing by to help!