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A Few Reminders for Arkansas Cattle Producers Facing Their First Winter Weather Threat of the 2013-14 Season

December 5, 2013

Winter storm and ice warnings are in effect for much of Arkansas and precipitation is expected through Friday and to resume Sunday with highs in the low 30’s through the middle of next week. In Arkansas, winter temperatures can vary from week to week which makes the need to adjust feeding difficult to predict. Keep the following points in mind while caring for cattle during this first threat of winter weather.

  • Food intake can increase 5 to 10%. This is important as it helps increase energy consumption. Make sure cows have free choice access to hay. For personal safety, put out several days worth of hay to minimize the amount of travel on icy roadways, and account for higher intakes when estimating how much hay to make available.
  • Feed higher quality hay. Hay that is greater in protein and total digestible nutrients will have more available energy and greater consumption compared to low quality hay.
  • Provide shelter. Two critical factors that influence the herd’s ability to cope is “wet and wind”. Cows with a normal winter coat cope well with temperatures as low as 32 F and much lower for breeds that grow a heavy hair coat; however, a wet coat increases a cows lower critical temperature to near 60 F (see table below), even though the cow has a winter coat. Wind is a important factor to consider due to the “wind-chill effect”, causing the environment to feel colder than the temperature measured on the thermometer. Cattle producers aren’t setup to keep cattle from getting wet during winter; however, wind-breaks, which reduce wind-chill are beneficial. Move cattle where they can easily access natural or man-made wind breaks.
  • Provide supplemental grain or byproduct feeds. A common rule of thumb is 1% increase in energy intake for each degree below lower critical temperature (see example below). The challenge with wet cattle on a windy day with below freezing temperatures is even with supplemental feeds, cattle will likely utilize body energy reserves to stay warm. Therefore, supplemental feeding should continue for a period of time after conditions return to normal. A common practice is to continue supplementing an equal number of days after the inclement weather ceases. For example, if supplement is fed for 5 days due to inclement weather, supplement will continue to be fed for 5 additional days.
  • Keep water available. Water intake and feed intake are related. If cattle can’t drink, this will affect their food intake and ability to cope with winter weather.
  • Group cows according to needs. Cows that are near calving should be moved to areas that provide easier care during severe weather. Research in Arkansas has demonstrated incidence of calving is associated with changes in weather conditions. Thin cows and lactating cows will have a greater demand for energy than fleshy cows that are in mid- to late-gestation.
  • Watch for mud after the thaw. Muddy conditions can affect food intake. In severe mud, food intake can be reduced by as much as 15 to 30%. This can affect restoration of energy stores after temperatures return to normal and the ground thaws. Make sure feeding sites are well drained, watch cattle feeding behavior to determine the difficulty in accessing the hay ring or feed bunk, and relocate feeding areas if mud becomes an issue.

Table of Lower Critical Temperatures (F) for

Beef Cattle Based on Hair Coat Condition

Hair Coat Description

Lower Critical Temperature (F)

Summer coat or wetted fall/winter coat

59

Fall coat

45

Normal winter dry coat

32

Heavy winter dry coat

18

Example Scenario
Pregnant cows in moderate to good body condition are wet
(59F LCT), the average 24 hour temperature is 22F, and the cows
are fed in an area blocking the wind, minimizing wind-chill.
The increase in energy demand is 37%, and this increased demand
is only expected to last for 5 days. The cows will be fed high
quality hay (14% protein, 58% TDN). Even with greater intake,
the cows will still have an inadequate energy supply. Not knowing
the long-term situation, 3 lb/cow corn will be fed in addition
to the hay. It is expected with high quality hay and a small
amount of grain supplement that the cows may still have a
little less energy in their diet than needed the next 5 days,
so for every day supplemented during bad weather, the same
number of days will be supplemented once the weather returns to
the cows normal comfort zone.

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