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How to keep animals in the winter

Updated: Sep 27, 2022

The fall/spring equinox is almost here and for those of us in the Northern hemisphere that signals that winter will be here soon. Winter brings a lot of challenges for you and your herd.

7 Tips for keeping winter livestock

1.) Test livestock feed for protein and nutrients 

The energy needs of your herd change during the winter. They grow a long coat, store fat as well as their mothering needs. Make sure they have adequate feed, salt and supplements is vital to their health this winter. It's a good idea to review feed labels or ask a feed analysis to best understand the value of the feed.

Different cows have different winter feed requirements based on their body condition score (BCS), overall health, and whether they are pregnant or nursing. This is called Lowest Critical Temperature (LCT). For every 1% degree change below LCT a cow's energy requirement increases which requires more, higher quality feed or supplements.

2.) Livestock bedding or winter grazing rotation 

If you're keeping your cattle confined this winter it's time to stock up on bedding but you can also do a daily pasture rotation. This gives them a new place to bed down each day away from the mud, manure and ice.

While proper livestock bedding and shelter are extremely important if you are keeping your animals in a single paddock or other location these practices are expensive and may be unnecessary. Using a well planned and managed winter grazing program can provide all the bedding and shelter that your cattle need through winter. A daily winter pasture rotation can allow you to reduce your winter costs for bedding and shelter and can also result in healthier animals. Learn more about how to plan winter grazing rotations.

3.) Check your livestock shelters

If you're planning to keep your animals in one place during the winter as opposed managing a winter grazing rotation plan, then adequate livestock shelters are critical. Staying dry is key to staying warm. Create shelters from the wind and cold. The more your herd shivers the more calories they burn. The more stress they feel the less they will thrive. Now is a great time to look into this on your pastures.

4.) Livestock water access 

Your herd will need extra water for their winter coat to growing, the extra feed they're digesting and healthy rumen activity. Learn more about additional livestock water needs during winter. Additionally, depending on the conditions and type of livestock, they animals may not want to leave their shelter to get a drink. So, it's vital that you make this easy for them during the winter. Be sure to have a livestock winter watering system that can provide adequate access to fresh water throughout the whole winter.

5.) Prepare your farm for winter

Winter brings a time of frozen buckets, broken supply lines, cold, slippery and wet conditions. Get your equipment and ranch prepared for what you will need before you need it.   Here's a helpful guide to winterizing your farm. Also prepare yourself for the cold. Make sure to have good winter and foul weather gear that will keep you warm and dry while out tending to your animals.

6.) Check you cattle's body condition score

It's critical to understand your animals health as you move into the colder months. The animal's health will determine how much feed, supplement, water and shelter you may need to provide to get them through the coldest months. A cow's body condition score has a direct effect on their nutritional requirements. For example, at 32°F, a cow with a BCS of 5 will require 30% more energy to maintain its BCS, compared to a cow with a BCS of 2.

Body condition score provides a quick and easy way to evaluate your animals well being and physical condition. Make sure your herd goes into the winter with a healthy BCS. Look for optimal body scores of 5-6. Learn more about how to check body condition score.

7.) Stock up on livestock feed.

Feed requirements go up 10%-15% in the winter. Be prepared to feed your herd the nutrients to keep up their energy and keep them healthy this winter. If you're planning to provide hay through the winter, check out our guide for putting up hay for the winter.

Winter can be a tough time for livestock. But, good preparation will make your winter a little easier this year and help your herd come out healthier and happier in spring.


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