Can you believe it? We’ve reached the beginning of January! While each season brings its own good and bad points, the cold weather can be a challenge for me. When I’m cold, it’s hard for me to get motivated and get to work. But when I’ve made smart choices and prepared myself ahead of time for the job at hand, whether that be caring for cattle or performing other farm chores, I function better in winter.
While our cattle might be more suited for the outdoor winter temperatures than we are, the bitter temperatures, biting wind and blinding snow (although that doesn’t happen too often here) can still be unpleasant for them. Depending on what breed of cattle you have and where they originate from, some can be more tolerant of nasty conditions than others. But with some proper care and preparation done ahead of time, you can make your animals much more comfortable throughout the harsh winter days.
Here are some things to keep in mind and mistakes to avoid as you consider caring for your own cattle during the winter months.
Although you can’t do much to change the weather conditions themselves, you can work extra hard to protect your herd from the elements. Days that vary greatly in temperature with too-hot daytime hours and too-cold nights can be some of the hardest for cattle to manage.
Wet conditions can also be a challenge, especially if there’s no dry place for them to lie down. If you find that it’s especially wet and cold outside, some ways to help them cope include:
- Having them out on grass or pasture rather than in a dry lot.
- If in a dry lot, offer a mound of dirt that the water can run off of and where they will have a dry spot to lay on.
- If needed, use equipment to go into the pen or lot and manually clear away a large space that will give them solid ground to rest on.
While cattle desperately need water during the summer as they battle through the toasty months, it’s also extremely important to keep a close eye on the water supply during the winter as well. Even though there might be water in the tank, it might be stuck under several inches of ice. Ponds can freeze over, water fountains can malfunction, and stock tanks can become blocks of ice.
For frozen ponds, it’s helpful to keep an axe or other tool handy to chop accessible drinking holes through the ice. For water fountains, check them regularly to ensure that the heating elements are doing their jobs and keep any necessary spare parts on hand for quick repairs.
If putting water in a stock tank, it can be good to avoid filling it completely full so that it won’t freeze solid at the top.
Cattle “burn” through a lot of feed when it’s really cold outside as they essentially eat to stay warm. Feed rations can be adjusted as needed to help meet their nutritional requirements during the colder months.
Keep well stocked with good quality hay and grain, and avoid waiting until it’s getting cold to go buy feed.
At times if it is quite cold out, straw bales can be rolled out on the ground for the cattle to lay down in. The straw acts as insulation and can even be used out in a calving pasture if calves are being born and need a place to lay.
When it comes to wind, offer a wind-block or some protected place where animals can get a break from the wind.
Speaking of calving, if your cow herd has early “spring calves” toward the beginning of the year, not only will you need to be regularly keeping on top of their normal needs such as feed, water and protection from the elements, but you’ll want to watch out for any other potential threats to the new calves as well.
These threats can be in the form of anything from a physical hazard in the pasture (like a ditch with frozen water that a calf could become trapped in), to an inexperienced heifer that doesn’t get the calf cleaned off and nursing in time, or even a hungry predator that is hoping to catch its next meal in your calving pasture. Regularly check in to make sure that all babies are accounted for and hopefully warmly nursing right under mama.
As you raise and care for your cattle year after year, you’ll become more accustomed to what their needs will be, where your most common problems often arise, and what you can do to become better prepared for them.
So grab an extra pair of long johns and wrap that scarf a little tighter. You’ve got cattle to feed!