Each season brings its beauty and hardships with it. While summer can be a challenge with the lack of rain and heat, winter has its own set of challenges. Last year, we had such a cold spell in Kansas that the guys could be found out driving through the cattle pens unrolling straw bales. Before they even finished unrolling them, the cattle already bedded down in the straw to enjoy the insulation it offered.
About this time of year, I start making a mental list of things that need to be taken care of before the bitter cold hits. For me, they’re usually tasks around the home and smaller jobs. But you can do several things to make sure your cattle will make it through the colder months.
This really applies to about any area of your homestead. But staying prepared for the upcoming seasons can be a lifesaver. When the snow or cold is so bitter, you want to be outside as little as possible!
A few basic things that can help your operation include:
- A working, ready-to-use generator for when the power goes out and you need to pump some water or use heaters.
- Gas, propane or diesel fuel in a fuel tank to run a tractor, generator, vehicle, atv, heater, etc.
- Extra heat lamps and bulbs.
- Good fences—fixed, tightened and repaired. You won’t want your animals getting out during nasty weather!
- Check watering systems and heating elements in your waterers. Make sure they all work properly.
- Sometimes, you need to replace well components ahead of time so you won’t have trouble with them during the bitter cold of winter.
- Stock up on any hay or feed you can store safely and will use during the upcoming months. You can’t grow hay during the winter. And you might just avoid some higher prices if you buy when it’s readily available during the summer!
- Medicine that can be safely stored in a fridge might be helpful to have on hand if your cattle start to come down sick over a weekend. Talk to your local vet to see what you should buy ahead of time.
Body condition when heading into winter is extremely important for your cattle. If you have cows that will be calving later in the winter (spring calving), it is especially critical that they go into the colder months well conditioned.
Watch to make sure they don’t go into the colder months too thin.
One of the hardest seasons for cattle to handle is the transition from fall to winter. The days are warm, and the nights are cool—if not cold. This back and forth between hot and cold wears down their immune systems and can make them much more susceptible to sickness.
While there is not much you can do to change the weather, just keep on top of treating any animal that looks like it might be on the edge of getting sick. And don’t overfeed them at this time. Do your best to keep them comfortable and offer plenty of fresh water.
Feed & Water
Cattle can only eat so much feed, so during the winter it’s important to make sure their feed ration is filled with even more nutrient-rich food to get all the calories into them you can. Just like people, it takes more energy to keep a body warm when it’s bitter cold outside. Cold air, moisture, snow, etc. can all add extra stress that we don’t typically have during summer. Corn silage and grain are both good options to supplement their feed with.
Even though it’s cold, you’ll still want to make sure the cattle have plenty of fresh, clean water to drink.
Kansas winters can include a bitter North wind that will cut right through a person. Cattle stuck out in these winter elements can’t add another coat or curl up under a wool blanket. So they rely on us to help offer them options to get out of the wind and bitter cold.
A windbreak can be a three-sided building that faces away from the wind, a group of trees, round bales, or a fence that is lined with tin that they can stand against.
If your cattle are very stressed or it’s extremely cold out, you can bed them down with a nice layer of straw to try and help mitigate the stress. New calves brought in from a very warm climate to a much colder climate can get especially stressed.
If cattle are coming from a climate that’s much colder than yours, however, make sure to offer plenty of fresh water and shade.
Overall, do your best to work ahead and make sure you have extra supplies, plenty of feed and options in case it gets bitterly cold. You can’t plan for everything that might happen, but as the saying goes, if you fail to prepare, prepare to fail!