Winter cattle feeding

Swirling leaves will soon be replaced with swirling snowflakes, and gestating cows will soon be facing the brutality of winter.

Keeping those cows in condition as they fight cold and wet weather can be a challenge, says Patrick Wall, Extension beef specialist with Iowa State University in Knoxville, Iowa.

Prepping for winter needs to start during harvest and not after the combines are back in the shed, he says.

“I think sometimes we ignore cows when the combines are running,” Wall says. “If that cow loses body condition, it is going to cost you more to put it on later. Or, you may never get her to catch up completely. It’s much easier to put weight on her with this kind of weather.”

Wall says cows placed on harvested corn fields will put on weight initially, but added supplemental energy sources might be necessary.

“She needs the energy to put on weight,” he says.

Wall also suggests hay be tested.

“You want to test each cutting from each farm. It’s money well spent,” he says. “You need to know where you are short, and where you don’t need to add. Most of the calls I get involved producers who are over-feeding cows, and that’s a very expensive thing to do.”

This might also be a good time to sort cows, says Julie Walker, Extension beef specialist with South Dakota State University.

“If you can sort them by body condition score, you don’t have to worry about over-feeding cows who are in good shape, and you can make sure thinner cows are getting what they need,” she says.

Walker says with the challenging growing season, finding supplemental feed could be more difficult than in most years.

“You need to know where you’re short now and take steps to cover what you are going to need,” she says. “With corn yields down, we may not have the feed available in places if we have a rough winter.”

Weaning calves will also boost cow condition. Walker says with the late harvest, many producers have not weaned calves this fall.

“We don’t have many dry lots to put them, so they haven’t been weaned,” she says, adding weaning will substantially drop the nutrient requirements for cows.

Wall says once winter arrives, keeping cows dry becomes essential.

“You have the most trouble when cows are wet,” he says. “She will tolerate cold pretty well, but the combination of wet and cold is tough. Supplemental feeding will have some value, as will keeping them near shelter, such as a building or windbreak.”

Wall says checking body condition scores during vaccinations is also important.

“When that calf is weaned and she’s in the chute, check her body condition score,” he says. “That’s going to give you a pretty good idea if she needs some extra attention ahead of winter.”

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Jeff DeYoung is livestock editor for Iowa Farmer Today, Missouri Farmer Today and Illinois Farmer Today.