Last winter was brutal, and keeping weight on fed cattle proved challenging for most feedlots.
While it is impossible to predict winter weather, preparation can help reduce risk in the feedlot.
Dan Loy, Extension beef specialist with Iowa State University, says ISU data from last winter indicates poor feedlot performance. The data collected from 6,000 head in Story County includes cattle that were protected from the environment.
“It was just a rough winter, and we saw that in the feedlot performance,” Loy says.
He says as winter looms, producers should be looking at any changes that will help them better manage cold stress and mud.
“Cold stress is affected by both the temperature and the wind chill, just like humans,” Loy says. “In the Midwest, there is value in having a windbreak because it’s going to reduce the exposure.
“And there is also value in a building of some sort because it’s going to improve feed efficiency by about 5% year-round, and likely more in extreme cold weather.”
Dirt feedlots should be prepared ahead of winter, he says. While frozen ground is not have much of a negative effect on the feet of the cattle, laying down on frozen ground could be a problem. Loy suggests keeping adequate bedding in the lot to help cattle avoid direct contact with the ground.
Late planting will likely translate into a late harvest, making now a good time to prepare for winter, says Warren Rusche, Extension beef specialist with South Dakota State University.
He says it is a good time to wean calves and help them transition from pasture to feedlot.
“Weaning is stressful on calves, and moving a stressed calf into the feedlot in bad weather is really going to impact that calf and its performance,” Rusche says. “I know this is difficult to avoid for lots getting calves in each week. Placing calves when the weather is good is going to be better on the calf.”
He says cattle instinctively eat more when the weather turns cold. Feedlots need to make sure cattle are getting enough feed to meet their needs.
Loy suggests avoiding drastic changes in the diet, adding producers should keep an eye on intake.
“When it’s really cold, some cattle will stop eating altogether,” he says.
Rusche says calf health also needs to be monitored. He says a load of cattle from a variety of sources could present health challenges.
“It carries much more risk than those who come from the same ranch,” Rusche says. “You need to keep an eye on them to make sure they are healthy.”
Loy says good management practices should reduce much of the risk during the winter.
“Cattle are tolerant to the cold, but there is a limit to that tolerance,” he says. “Their coat and fat give them insulation against the cold. Limiting their exposure to the wind and mud should keep them gaining during the winter.”