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Managing Beef Cattle for Winter

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January 31, 2019

Announcer: Farm and Family is a production of the Mississippi State University extension service.

Amy Taylor: Today, we're talking about managing beef cattle for winter. Hello, I'm Amy Taylor, and welcome to Farm and Family. Today, we're speaking with Dr. Brandi Karisch, Mississippi State University extension service beef cattle specialist. Brandi, why is winter such a challenging time?

Brandi Karisch: Well, Amy, the cattle can increase their body heat production as a response to severe cold by increasing their metabolic rate. Their energy needs are going to increase, and they're going to have eat more just to maintain themselves. Cattle typically can adapt to colder temperatures with gradual changes in the season by growing longer hair coats and adjusting their metabolic levels, as well as depositing some extra fat to be able to insulate if their diet allows. A clean, dry hair coat and protection from the wind are very important. High wind can make these temperatures feel even colder, as for cattle as they do for you and I.

Amy Taylor: What nutritional or feeding challenges do cattle face in the winter?

Brandi Karisch: Well feed intake is going to increase, so it's important for producers to plan for this in their feeding programs. Our temperature dropped to just 60 degrees to 40 degrees can increase cattle's intake by two to five percent, and that drop below 40% can increase their intake by up to eight percent. We're fortunate here in Mississippi that we can graze cattle most of the year, but severe cold is going to impact forage growth, so it's important to plan ahead for enough hay stores or stockpile forage and manage cold season forages as well. And it's also important to consider the quality of that hay or stockpiled forage, and plan any supplementation around those cows' nutrient requirements and the quality of that hay or forage.

Amy Taylor: So, how can producers account for these challenges?

Brandi Karisch: Planning ahead is a key factor. Making sure they have plenty of hay supply on hand to take account for those increased feed intakes, making sure to keep those hay feeders adequately stocked, and paying close attention to those feeding areas themselves. Mud can build up pretty quickly in a high traffic area and cause its own set of problems. So, it can negate that insulation factor or that hair coat that cow spent time growing, cause hoof problems in mature cows. And it's even a bigger concern for young calves, who can become chilled or trapped in the mud or pick up diseases. For most producers, supplementation or that extra winter feeding is a big cost and a big concern, so it's important that they do it both efficiently and economically.  They can group their herd into winter feeding groups by cow age or condition or physiological status, and then closely match their forage and feeding programs to the needs of each one of those groups. Those cold, wet conditions can increase energy requirements even further, so it's important to choose a supplementation program that fits needs of the cattle, as well as labor requirements. And of course, always provide access to a good quality mineral. It's important that they offer hay before forage availability becomes limiting, as hay can be used to spare some extra forage and provide protein and vitamin A on any kind of stockpile forage. Want to make sure that they're managing those winter pastures, so they don't graze down to too low of a stubble height, so we want to try to maintain at least four inches. Another option is limit grazing for a few hours a day on those winter forages that might come up.

Amy Taylor: What other management factors should producers consider?

Brandi Karisch: Water's always a key concern, was it's a really important nutrient, so we want to make sure they always have adequate amounts of clean, fresh water available. During the winter, this is even more important, as we might have to consider breaking ice daily on water tanks, and paying close attention to water lines and making sure to protect those exposed pipes or even cut off water during the evening time, when temperatures might drop even further.  Body condition score or that extra fat stores that those cows can build up is really important. Cows that are thin are going to have more problems and they may be weak or have difficulty calving. So it's important to manage cows so they're at least a body condition score of five to six on that one to nine scale. And calving management is also a big concern, so pay close attention to newborn calves, as they're extra susceptible. So monitor them closely, routinely check them and move cow calf pairs to fresh pastures soon after calving.

Amy Taylor: Today we've been speaking with Dr. Brandi Karisch, beef cattle specialist. I'm Amy Taylor, and this has been Farm and Family. Have a great day.

Announcer: Farm and Family is a production of the Mississippi State University extension service.

Department: Animal & Dairy Science

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