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Help cattle survive bitter winter

Cattle producers need to keep a sharp eye on feed amounts and early calves when frigid air moves in, say cattle experts with the University of Arkansas Division of Agriculture.

In early January, the National Weather Service has issued winter weather and wind chill advisories. A combination of stiff winds and cold air can send wind chills below zero.

“Cattle are pretty hardy and tend to handle cold weather well,” said Brett Barham, assistant professor of breeding and genetics for the Division of Agriculture.

Still, the cold can present some challenges to cattle operations. Cattle perform best when the temperatures hover between 59 and 77 degrees.

Tom Troxel, professor and associate department head for animal science for the U of A Division of Agriculture, said studies have shown that “for every 1 degree below the critical temperature, a cow’s energy requirement increases by 1 percent.

“This means that if the temperature drops below the critical temperature, cattle need to be better fed. It may be that more, or higher quality, hay needs to be provided.”

Cold temperatures bring other factors into play, such as mud and rain.

“When cattle get wet, air insulation in their coats is lost,” Troxel said.

“The air pockets between hair fibers are matted down in cold rain.

“Another thing to consider is mud. It’s estimated that it can increase the maintenance requirement from 7 percent to 30 percent.”

Water is also an important nutrient, and cattlemen should be sure water is accessible during freezing temperatures.

Cattlemen need to keep a close watch on cows that may calve, and early season calves.

“The biggest dangers are to calves that are born during the extreme cold,” Troxel said. “Luckily, most of our calves are scheduled to be born in late winter and early spring, so not very many calves should be affected.

“Cows that are expected to calve during this cold snap should be observed and possibly moved closer to shelter prior to calving,” Barham said. “After calving, the newborn calves should be observed, and in the case of hyperthermia, intervention in the form of providing shelter and a heat source is needed.”

For more information about managing cattle, visit or contact your county Extension office.

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