Cold and wet are our current weather conditions in Texas. In fact, every winter in east Texas comes accompanied by cooler, wetter weather. And while Texas winters are typically mild compared to the rest of the nation, farmers and ranchers still need to adequately prepare for the weather changes to properly care for their livestock and land. On that note, here are some considerations for caring for your livestock through the next cold snap or freeze.
I heard from a wise cattleman that cows can take the cold and cows can take being wet, but you have to take care of them when it gets really cold and when they are completely wet. While very few ranchers have barn space for their entire herd, below are some ways to assist cattle and help them get through the winter weather.
Caring for Cattle When It’s Cold
Protect them from the Wind
Providing shelter from wind is key to caring for your cattle during the cold. Wind chill can worsen stress on your livestock from a cold rain. A well-ventilated building, stack of big bales, woods, brush, fencerows, and hollows are all potential windbreaks.
Reduce muddy conditions if possible. Mud robs just as much body head as a rain. When feeding hay, rotate your location to avoid severe mud. Provide access to water so that they don’t have to wade thru mud.
Hold off on the Haul
Try not to haul cattle when it is cold and wet. My motorcycle riding friends talk about how much cooler it is riding their bikes in any weather. The same applies to livestock. If possible, avoid loading and transporting during rain and extreme cold. Common sense, I know, but it happens too frequently.
Knock Up the Nutrition
Increase the nutrition. I know we get into a routine for winter feeding, however during times of extreme cold, you need to tweak your regimen.
While a cow typically consumes about 2.5% of her body weight daily, that may increase to 3.5% in inclement weather. I’ve heard folks say that poor quality hay will keep a cow warm in the winter. That’s true, but the total energy level required by a cow will certainly increase and good quality hay, cubes or other feed will certainly be needed.
And why should we do this? The results are stronger, healthier cattle. They are better conditioned and better producers.
Cold Weather Cattle Conditioning
Most savvy ranchers know their herd’s condition and expect to lose a little conditioning during the winter. This winter, with hay in short supply, makes nutrition an even bigger issue.
There is a “Body Condition Score” index from 1 to 10. A score of 1 is severely emaciated to the point where you can see the skeletal outline and 10 is excessive, bulging fat. A moderate rating of 5 means you can see only the last 2 ribs.
Take a hard look at your cows. Research and years of experience tells us the ideal body condition ranges from a score of 4 (where they will still breed and produce) up to a 6 where you are not wasting feed.
Whether or not you agree with what your neighbor may evaluate as a score of 4 or 4 ½, we need to care for cattle over these upcoming colder, harsher months in the year so that we don’t drop down to a very thin poor producer.
It doesn’t take much of a prognosticator to see we’ve got a few months of cold, wet weather ahead. Here’s wishing you lots of good hay and cows that are almost too fat.
Cary Sims is the County Extension Agent for agriculture and natural resources for Angelina County. His email address is firstname.lastname@example.org .
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