Cows and Winter
Managing Energy Decrease in Winter
Winter time gets cold for cows
as well and just as humans have a tendency to get lethargic when Old Man Winter rears his frosty head, so do
But, just like humans who can throw on layer upon layer, sweater after sweater and
blanket after blanket until they get toasty, there are some simple but important steps you can take to ensure your
herd remains healthy when the thermometer drops.
Its all about the Energy
The major nutrient requirement for cows in the colder months
is energy. Before winter arrives, remember that the lower critical temperature for dry coat beef cows is generally
accepted as 32 degrees F. Researchers have used a general rule of thumb that says a cow’s energy needs increase by
roughly 1 percent for every degree below the 32 degree threshold. This includes wind chills.
When the cold is setting in, you need to calculate how much you need to increase your
cow’s energy by increasing feed or enacting a winter supplement system.
If the temperature were to drop five degree below 32 degrees F, to 27 degrees,
calculate the energy adjustment based on the 1 percent for each degree number. In this instance, 27 percent. So a
rancher should increase the daily energy intake 27 percent, to 127 percent.
What if it Rains?
Research has indicated that energy requirements for maintenance of beef cows with
a wet hair coat is greater, and actually show that wet hair coat cows reach the lower critical temperature at 59
In this case, the energy requirements are increased at an accepted 2 percent figure.
Using a similar example, if the temperature drops five degrees below the 59 degree threshold, it is now 54 degrees.
Multiply 54 by the 2 percent figure and you get 108 percent. This rancher would need to increase his or her cattle
energy intake by 108 percent, or up the energy intake to 208 percent of the usual daily requirements.
Problems arise here because, with today’s feed, it is basically impossible to do that
for cows on the range. Also, energy change in a diet of cows accustomed to a high roughage count must be made
gradually to avoid what can be severe digestive disorders.
In this instance, the energy intake should be increased moderately during the wet
weather, and then this energy increase should be continued when the dry weather returns to bring the cow back to
By extending the amount of increased feed, you will avoid causing digestive problems in the cow, and the energy
intake can be moderated over time, ensuring the cow remains healthy and is back up to acceptable energy levels
shortly after the clouds have cleared.
Energy is Vital
Energy is perhaps the most important nutrient, not only to the health of the cow,
but the success of the herd and the profitability of the ranch. Lower energy levels in cows can lead to slower
growth, poor performance and reproduction, and decreased quality of the cattle within the herd. Make sure to keep
an eye on each cow throughout when cold weather sets in. Ranchers need to keep an eye on the forecast and be
prepared to increase energy levels when the temperature dips.