Feeding cattle in winter weather presents a variety of challenges. Not only do we have a variety of forms of precipitation with which to deal, but we can have wild barometric swings that can have a large influence on feed intake.
- Have pen surfaces box scraped smooth before they freeze-in for the winter. (Pipe dream, try anyway!)
- Establish a bed pack before you need it. This allows you to build up and keep cattle dry.
- Remove snow, or push to one corner.
- Snow management allows the pen surface to dry and possibly be scraped soit can freeze smoother.
Remember…if you’re not sure if you should bed the pen—BED THE PEN.
Ration and Bunk Management
Don’t try to outguess the cattle or weather. Here are some tips to help with bunk management in various settings. Ruminants respond to barometric pressure. A dropping barometer signals potentially bad weather. In the wild, a ruminant animal’s response to a pressure drop is to load up on feed so it can “hide out” and chew cud. Unfortunately in the feedyard, the diet has too much starch to allow loading up.
- If cattle ask for more feed prior or during a weather event and you have adequate bunk space and the event is short lived, don’t give it to them.
- If the event is going to be for extended time (i.e. more than a day) keep to the one pound of dry matter (DM) increase perday rule.
- If bunk space is tight, you may be able to back up a ration and raise intakes to buffer the aggressive and non-aggressive eaters.
- In a confinement slat barn where bunk space is very tight, space your two feeding periods only a few hours apart to accommodate the non-aggressive eaters.
- In outside yards or bedding barns, try to address rising intakes with extra bedding. If the event is very moisture laden, this may not be an option.
Read the cattle as well as the weather. If bunks are cleaned up, but cattle are complacent, they don’t necessarily need an increase in dry matter(DM). There are many other factors and situations brought on by winter weather, but these are a few items I try to keep in mind.