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Cold winter storms stress cattle

Farmers should increase feed to reduce cow stress in wet winters.

February 11, 2021

3 Min Read
Cattle in snow covered field
COOL COWS: Cattle are “robust creatures,” says K-State beef systems specialist Justin Waggoner. Nonetheless, producers should consistently monitor cattle’s condition during cold periods.Courtesy of Kansas State University

A Kansas State University beef cattle specialist is urging the state’s producers to continue monitoring their cattle’s condition, especially during periods when Mother Nature sends her winter chill.

Justin Waggoner, a beef systems specialist with K-State Research and Extension, says producers are often ready to deal with heat stress during the summer, but cold stress during the latter stages of winter can also be challenging.

“Cattle are very robust creatures; they are able to withstand a wide range of temperatures,” Waggoner says. “But January and February are often our most extreme temperatures in Kansas, and that can certainly have an impact on cattle.”

Cattle are most comfortable when they are in what is known as the thermoneutral zone, a range of temperatures where they are not experiencing cold or heat stress.

Moisture problems

Waggoner says a cow’s condition going into a cold period will affect how the animal can withstand stress.

“If we have a cow that is in good condition, she is going to be able to withstand colder temperatures better than a cow that is exceptionally thin,” he says. “If we take a cow that is in good condition and has had adequate time to grow that winter hair coat, that animal can withstand some fairly cold temperatures. Typically, they won’t experience cold stress until the ambient temperature (the ‘real-feel’ temperature) reaches 18 degrees F.”

Rain, snow and wind complicate the situation, Waggoner adds.

“When you wet that hair down, it reduces its ability to trap air and insulate the cow,” he says. “With a wet coat, a cow can experience cold stress even at 60 degrees F.”

Push the feed

Waggoner says cold stress increases the cow’s energy requirement, not protein ⸺ which is a common misconception.

“One thing we see producers do when we get a cold weather event is, they roll out hay,” Waggoner says. “What I recommend is utilizing hay that is slightly better quality than the forage those cattle currently are grazing. For example, if they had been turned out on milo or cornstalks, then a moderate-quality grass hay will be higher quality than those stalks they were on.”

Waggoner also suggests that other high-quality forages, such as alfalfa, may be used as a supplement.

“In some regions of the country, it’s not uncommon for producers to use concentrates such as corn or byproducts as supplements during the winter. Producers might add 1 to 2 pounds of corn or byproduct feedstuffs under conditions of a storm front, in combination with some of the other things I’ve mentioned.”

For more guidelines on dealing with cold stress, producers are encouraged to contact their local K-State Research and Extension agent.

Daily updates on weather conditions ⸺ including an animal comfort index ⸺ is available online from the Kansas Mesonet, mesonet.k-state.edu. That site allows producers to find conditions specific to their location.

Source: The Kansas State University Extension is solely responsible for the information provided and is wholly owned by the source. Informa Business Media and all its subsidiaries are not responsible for any of the content contained in this information asset.



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