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Animal Health Notebook

Tactics that help get cattle through winter

The stress is going to come, how you prepare for it now makes a difference next spring.

My friend Ray Bannister of eastern Montana claims to be big on stressing cattle to insure that they fit his environment. He manages for cows that can perform with positive results year round and he believes that stress is an important part of the Natural Model. He also agrees with me that the stress needs to be anticipated and controlled by the manager and the management team. In my case the management team consists of me.

An essential part of wintering cattle is the evaluation of the cattle late in the growing season. It is a major part of winter success. Over a period of twenty years in our country we can expect two, three, or four really tough, wet, cold winters, six or eight mild winters with good amounts of sunshine, and ten winters with a mixture of cold and wet, followed by a day or two with sunshine. Sunshine in January is a plus.

We plan to graze cows through the winter with calves at their side. We plan to have the cowherd bred before the forage quality declines and the weather toughens. Cold rain and lack of sunlight are our biggest obstacles. Also, milk costs money. Forage quality declines most every day during the winter. All these factors are stressful. Slick haired, well-conditioned cattle (body scores above 6) are more capable of managing the stress with minimal costs.

One of the many advantages of managed grazing with daily moves is the constant up close viewing of the herd and every individual.

“Man these cattle don’t look like they did two weeks ago when I saw them last”, is a remark that I’ve heard hundreds of times. It is difficult for this situation to happen with daily moves. Thin dry haired cattle in November are going to cost a bunch to winter. Wait till December to start serious monitoring and execution concerning the cattle described above and you have sure opened up an expensive ‘can of worms’.

Experience tells us that our cattle need more supplement (both energy and protein) during the winter. Supplement means a small amount. Feeding means a right smart more pounds and money than supplement. We do not want to feed as that is why there are feed-yards. We do have to supplement in our program in our environment.

Supplement needs to begin or to be increased a month or more before a casual observer would anticipate or see the need. We like to see the cattle on the gain through most of December.

I define ‘bad days’ as days or multiple days when cattle are losing condition. I know that we are going to have bad days every winter. I know that bad days are stressful. My job is to have the cattle ready and myself ready for the stress and cushion the ill effects of winter. I start early.

The take home message is that well fed cattle are healthy cattle.

Monitor and Record forage tonnage and count cow days on location in early fall and re-evaluate on a regular basis. The same is true of cattle condition. Early planning and re-evaluation can be fun and is always profitable if it is followed by strategic execution. Good health does not come from a bottle.

P.S. If you don’t trust your ability to estimate forage tonnage per acre, study “Kick the Hay Habit” by Jim Gerrish

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