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Managing Beef Cattle for Winter

Filed Under:
November 1, 2018

Guest: Brandi Karisch, Beef Cattle Specialist


Announcer: Farm and Family is a production of the Mississippi State University Extension Service.

Amy Taylor: Today, we're talking about managing beef cattle for winter. Hello, I'm Amy Taylor, and welcome to Farm and Family. Today, we're speaking with Dr. Brandi Karisch, Mississippi State University Extension Service Beef Cattle Specialist. Brandi, why is winter such a challenging time?

Brandi Karisch: Well, Amy. The cattle can increase their body heat production as a response to severe cold by increasing their metabolic rate. Their energy needs are going to increase, and they're going to have to eat more just to maintain themselves. Cattle typically can adapt to colder temperatures with gradual changes in the season by growing longer hair coats and adjusting their metabolic levels, as well as depositing some extra fat to be able to insulate if their diet allows. A clean, dry hair coat and protection from the wind are very important. High wind can make these temperatures feel even colder for cattle as they do for you and I.

Amy Taylor: What nutritional or feeding challenges do cattle face in the winter?

Brandi Karisch: Well, feed intake is going to increase, so it's important for producers to plan for this in their feeding programs. Temperature drops to 60 degrees to 40 degrees can increase cattle's intake by two to five percent, and a drop below 40 percent could increase their intake by up to eight percent. We're fortunate here in Mississippi that we can graze cattle most of the year, but severe cold is going to impact forage growth so it's important to plan ahead for enough hay stores or stockpile forage, and manage cold season forages as well. It's also important to consider the quality of that hay or stockpiled forage, and plan any supplementation around those cows' nutrient requirements and the quality of that hay or forage.

Amy Taylor: How can producers account for these challenges?

Brandi Karisch: Planning ahead is a key factor. Making sure they have plenty of hay supply on hand, they take account for those increased feed intakes, making sure to keep those hay feeders adequately stocked and paying close attention to those feeding areas themselves. Mud can build up pretty quickly in a high traffic area and cause its own set of problems. It can negate that insulation factor of that hair coat that cow spent time growing, cause hoof problems in mature cows, and is even a bigger concern for young calves who can become chilled or trapped in the mud, or pick up diseases. For most producers, supplementation or that extra winter feeding is a big cost and a big concern, so it's important that they do it both efficiently and economically. They can group their herd into winter feeding groups by cow age or condition, or physiological status, and then closely match their forage and feeding programs to the needs of each one of those groups.

Those cold, wet conditions can increase energy requirements even further, so it's important to choose a supplementation program that fits needs of the cattle, as well as labor requirements, and of course, always provide access to a good quality mineral. It's important that they offer hay before forage availability becomes limited, as hay can be used to spare some extra forage and provide protein and Vitamin A on any kind of stockpiled forage. They want to make sure that they're managing those winter pastures so they don't graze down to low of a stubble height. We want to try and maintain at least four inches. Another option is limit grazing for a few hours a day on those winter forages that might come up.

Amy Taylor: What other management factors should producers consider?

Brandi Karisch: Water is always a key concern, plus it's a really important nutrient. We want to make sure they always have adequate amounts of clean, fresh water available. During the winter, this is even more important as we might have to consider breaking ice daily on water tanks and paying close attention to water lines, and making sure to protect those exposed pipes, or even cut off water during the evening time when temperatures might drop even further. Body conditions score, or that extra fat stores that those cows can build up is really important. Cows that are thin are going to have more problems, and they may be weak or have difficulty calving. It's important to manage cows so they're at least a body condition score of five to six on that one to nine scale, and calving management is also a big concern. Pay close attention to newborn calves, as they're extra susceptible. Monitor them closely, routinely check them and move cow/calf pairs to fresh pasture soon after calving.

Amy Taylor: Today, we've been speaking with Dr. Brandi Karisch, beef cattle specialist. I'm Amy Taylor, and this has been Farm and Family. Have a great day.

Announcer: Farm and Family is a production of the Mississippi State University Extension Service.


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