Managing Your Cow Herd When the Temperature Drops

When it comes to managing your cow herd in the winter, nutrition, vaccinations and shelter are three of the most important considerations. The better these three issues are managed, the more productive you will find your cow herd when warm weather arrives again in the spring.

A colder than normal winter is predicted. Unfortunately, moisture and strong winds are likely to accompany those low temperatures in many parts of the U.S. Even if cold temps aren’t accompanied by moisture or strong winds, frigid temperatures are going to take a toll on cattle.

Evaluating the body condition score (BCS) of cattle is critical at this time. A BCS of around five and half is acceptable for mature cows, bred for their third calf or six to six and half for younger cows during late gestations. The key is to be proactive in reaching the appropriate BCS before winter hits. That means stockpiling enough high-quality feedstuffs to maintain the BCS through the winter.

Testing feedstuffs to ensure the nutritional value is accurate is critical while also remembering that feed sources can vary. Nutritional requirements rise during the 90 days prior to calving so the increase in nutrient demands is significant. Therefore, be sure to take an inventory of your feed and use it strategically.

Experts advise sorting cattle into smaller groups for a higher degree of management and less competition for feedstuffs. One way to reduce competition is to use round bale feeders.

It also is critical that your vaccination protocol is on target. Work with your veterinarian to maintain a consistent protocol and administer the vaccines at the appropriate times to optimize cattle health when temperatures plummet.

With strong winds expected to blow through most of the United States, having a place for cattle to take shelter also is critical. A shelterbelt with trees, temporary windbreaks and panels are good options.  

Wintering your cattle takes plenty of time, effort and investment but is worth it. Failing to implement a successful strategy can drastically impact your bottom line in terms of herd loss and even just one animal succumbing to the weather is too many. Failing to prepare for winter herd needs, could lead to a situation where cows go backwards in BCS, creating potential rebreeding challenges, as well. 

Making sure your animal health protocols are up to par is what will allow your herd to thrive through the winter and into spring.