With the extreme cold and temperatures well below zero amplified by wind chills, cattle may need extra protein and energy.

“Supplement requirements will go up in cold spells,” said Megan Van Emon, Montana State University Extension beef cattle specialist at Fort Keogh in Miles City, Mont.

If the temperature is lower than 10 below, and there is a lot of wind, the requirements for protein and energy are doubled.

“If the temperature is 10 below zero, and cattle have a place to get out of the wind, requirements would increase about 50 percent,” Van Emon said.

Supplements like lick tubs or blocks can provide some extra protein and energy, and will typically include trace minerals.

“If pastures are very poor, adding a higher quality protein and an extra energy supplement source will meet nutrient requirements,” she said.

Knowing the nutritional value of hay bales and the forage out in the winter pastures is helpful for making any needed supplement plans.

It always helps to check the nutritional quality of hay bales before unrolling them out in the winter pastures for feeding. To do that, Van Emon recommends sampling 10 percent of bales by taking samples from the core with a hay probe, and sampling from all over the stack.

“As bales sit out in the pasture and are exposed to the elements, they can lose nutritional value,” she said.

Last year, with very cold temperatures and heavy snow in the winter, cattle hair coats grew quickly, and that helped to keep cattle warm.

“We can dress in coats, and we hope cattle can have a nice, thick hair coat as well by this time of year,” Van Emon said.

Some breeds do not put on as heavy as a coat as other breeds. When cattle get wet, or if the wind blows hard enough to separate the hair, cattle are more exposed to cold and wind.

“This year, with the milder winter temperatures, hair coat growth was slower,” she said, adding the winter weather in Miles City, where she is based, has been relatively mild this year. However, Van Emon travels often across the state to Bozeman to teach students or gives presentations at workshops all over the state, so she is aware of varying temperatures when she is on the road.

In areas where it has been cold, cattle need shelter to stay warm. Being able to get out of the wind with shelterbelts, ravines, and draws helps, and even wood, steel or fabric windbreaks can protect cattle from the wind when there are no natural breaks in the pasture.

“Anytime cattle can get out of the wind, cattle will do better,” she said.

Don’t forget about bulls, either. Nutrient requirements of bulls increase with cold temperatures also. Bulls may not always be turned out in the best pasture to provide shelter during the winter months. 

Remember, bulls may only work a few months out of the year, but they are crucial to maintaining your herd.

“Last year, we had some frostbite on the scrotums of bulls in those freezing temperatures, and that affected testicular sperm, which is not good for breeding,” Van Emon said.

Make sure the bulls are in a pasture with shelter to get away from the wind and snow.

Many heifers and cows are in their third semester right now, and minerals are important for reproduction and fetal growth.

“Depending on your soil type, a good mineral supplement would include calcium, phosphorus, potassium and trace minerals,” she said.

As we prepare for spring, extra magnesium may be needed to minimize grass tetany. 

Trace minerals, including zinc, copper, manganese, and selenium are required to maintain growth and development of the fetus.

“In late gestation and before and after calving, heifers and cows need good protein sources,” she said.

Pastures are currently low-quality, less than 7 percent protein, which will not meet the protein needs of herd.

“When cows graze every day eating low quality forages in the winter, the protein element will be most important to ensure they have,” Van Emon said.

At the South Central Cattle and Forage Workshop this winter, where Van Emon is speaking this week (Feb. 4-5), one popular study she plans to discuss is a sugarbeet feeding study with steers.

Beets are grown all over south central and eastern Montana.

“Sometimes beet producers can’t get the beets out of the ground for harvest due to weather and other factors,” Van Emon said.

Livestock producers can use these areas to graze cattle.  When grazing, cattle will eat the beet tops first and may consume some of the beet.  Depending on the soil type, cattle may pull the entire beet out of the ground; then the main concern is choking.

“The beets and the tops make a good feedstuff for cattle,” she said. “We don’t want them eating a whole, large beet, as it could be a choking hazard.”

However, whole beets can be put through a wood chipper, and the pieces can be fed to cattle.

Cattle like the sweet beets, and readily eat them. With the beet supplement, cattle are gaining an excellent energy source.

While the beets are good for their rumen, it is not a high starch fiber supplement like oats or corn. Instead, they are a fibrous energy source.

Steers also need crude protein as they grow, and the beets only provide about 4-5 percent protein.

“The steers will need a protein source. In addition, cattle will need hay and minerals to meet all their nutritional requirements,” Van Emon added.

For producers who are interested in the results of the study, Van Emon said she found steers could be fed up to 45 percent sugarbeets on a dry matter basis.

Sign up for our Weekly newsletter

* I understand and agree that registration on or use of this site constitutes agreement to its user agreement and privacy policy.