Home News Livestock Crops Markets Hay, Range & Pasture Home & Family Classifieds Resources This Week's Journal
Commerical Hay Equipment For The Farm
Agro-Culture Liquid Fertilizer

Farm Survey

Journal Getaways

Reader Comment:
by jJane

"Thanks for sharing this story!"....Read the story...
Join other discussions.

Livestock need special attention to diet in cold weather

Cattle producers know that their feeding regime changes for cattle as temperatures dip toward the zero mark on the thermometer. Cold and wet, winter weather demands making feeding and management adjustments to ensure profitable performance in their cow and stocker herds.

In general, hay provides more heat during digestion than concentrate feeds. This is the basis for the recommendation that the primary focus of a cold weather feeding strategy is to provide plenty of good-quality hay for energy according to Dr. James Neel with Tennessee Extension. Producers need to remember that water is vital. If adequate water is not available, dry matter intake will be reduced resulting in less than optimum performance.

Cattle nutritional requirements were determined assuming the environment to be in the 60 degree to 30 degree F range. As the temperature drops below freezing, the cattle's energy needs increase. Wind and rain additionally increase the feed required to maintain production. If the extra feed is not provided, cattle performance will decline.

How can the extra feed needed by the brood cow to ensure optimum performance during winter weather be calculated? The following examples, developed by Oklahoma State University beef specialists, demonstrate how to calculate feed needs. The extra feed needed when it is not raining or the wind is not blowing can be calculated by the following "rule of thumb." Cattle energy needs for maintenance increases about 1 percent for each degree below 32 degrees in dry cold. This is fairly simple.

For example, if cows are in an environment where the temperature is 25 degrees and there is no wind or rain. How much extra feed will be needed as result of the low temperature? First, subtract 25 (degrees) from 32. The remainder is 7. The feed will need to be increased so that the ration will contain 7 percent more energy. If the cow was being fed 18 lb., of hay; multiply 18 times 1.07, feed 19.25 lb., of hay.

Assume for the second example that the herd is now in an environment where the temperature is 32 degrees and it is raining. In wet weather, the calculation method is similar; except the starting temperature is 59 F and the energy increase is 2 percent for each degree below 59 degrees F. Feed needs are much greater with a wet hair coat when it is rainy; the critical temperature is 59 F. Wet hair coats reduce the animal's ability to control body heat and maintain optimum performance. Start by subtracting 32 from 59. The remainder is 27. Then apply the "rule of thumb" for wet weather to increase the energy intake two percent for each degree below 59 degrees. In this case, the temperature difference is 27 below 59 degrees F. Multiply 27 x 2 = 54. Therefore, in this situation the producer should increase the ration 54 percent of the normal energy intake. Again, assuming that 18 lb., of hay was previously meeting the nutrient requirements, then with the wet hair coat, the hay to be fed would need to be increased to 28 lb.

In our final example assume that cows are in an environment where it is raining and the wind chill is 25 degrees. As in our second example, when it is raining, the critical temperature for cattle is 59 F. Again, apply the "rule of thumb" for wet weather to increase the energy intake 2 percent for each degree below 59 F. In this case the temperature difference is 34. Multiply 34 x 2 = 68. The "rule of thumb" for "wind chill" will need to be applied. Subtract 25 from 32. The remainder is 7. Therefore the feed will need to be increased an extra 7 percent for the wind chill. Add the adjustments for the wet hair coat and the wind chill. 68 percent plus 7 percent = 75 percent. Therefore in this situation, increase the ration 75 percent of the normal intake. Again, assuming that 18 lb., of hay was meeting the cow's energy needs, the amount of hay needed to be fed would now total 31.5 lb.

Unless the hay is of better quality than what is normally fed beef cow herds, it may be difficult to consume enough to meet the cow's energy needs. This would require supplementing with grain in amounts that could cause digestive problems. It would preferable to increase the energy intake by a smaller amount during the extreme weather and extend it into the days when the weather is more favorable. The hay could be increased to 22 lb., per day and feeding 5 to 6 lb., of corn per day. Extending this added feed level for 3 to 4 days following the bad weather would help the cows recover the losses that occurred during the bad weather and would not cause the digestive problems that could result from rapidly providing too much grain to meet the energy needs. It would be better to keep up with the weather forecasts and start making adjustments in feed intake 2 to 3 days before bad weather occurs.

Be sure that the cattle are consuming adequate protein with lower-quality hay. The protein will especially enhance microbial digestion of hay. Local feed dealers can provide options of several protein supplements. With low quality hay, it would be better to feed a plant protein supplement.

Cattle that are in good body condition (BCS 5+) will make it through the cold weather and wind chill better than those in a poor condition. But, cows can quickly lose condition if not properly fed and performance is also reduced. Parasite control prior to the start of the wintering period also can help to both reduce feed needs and maintain body condition.

Producers should also be close observers of weather forecasts. Be aware of weather fronts and start making feeding adjustments in time for cattle to be prepared for winter weather changes. If concentrate supplements are part of cold weather feeding strategy, this should be started well in advance of cold weather.


Kimberly Peterson, DVM reports that cold and inclement weather conditions also present special challenges for the horse. Whether a horse is turned out or exercised regularly, you need to be focused on the nutritional requirements of your four-legged friend. Horses are naturally well-adapted to thrive in frigid weather if they have the basics of adequate calorie intake, palatable water, and protection from wind and severe precipitation.

It is important to take into consideration any additional stress factors when assessing the caloric needs of your horse. Other calorie-burning conditions, such as late gestation, chronic pain, metabolic diseases, contagious illness, or parasite infestation, significantly increase the body's demand for calories. Frequent assessment of physical and environmental conditions is necessary to maintain optimum body condition.

Generally, horses at rest in ambient temperatures of 70 F consume 2 percent of their body weight in roughage (hay) per day. A 1,100-pound horse will eat approximately 22 pounds of hay per day. Roughage in the diet is the main source of heat for the horse. The bacterial fermentation of fiber in roughage, occurring in the large intestine, results in the majority of heat produced during digestion.

Horses unable to consume enough hay to maintain body condition might be supplemented with grains and oils. Many horses do very well on a diet of 100 percent hay and should always have at least 50 percent of the diet as hay. Sick horses or those at increasing levels of exercise or illness might consume more calories with the addition of cereal grains (oats, barley, rye, wheat, rice, and corn). Oats have the advantage of carbohydrate energy in addition to high fiber content for heat production, compared with other cereal grains. Oats provide one-third more digestible energy than hay (1.30 Mcal/pound of oats). Corn has less fiber for heat production, but it contains 50 percent more energy than hay. Be sure to weigh grain. Do not rely on volume (i.e., a scoop or coffee can) to accurately measure a ration.

Added fat in the form of vegetable oil is an efficient calorie source at 4 Mcal/pound (four times the energy of hay). Up to 12 percent of the day's total calories in the form of fats and oils is well-tolerated. While fat digestion releases almost no heat, it provides calories for energy and the maintenance of body condition (1 cup vegetable oil=2 Mcal).

A horse with a moderate hair coat starts requiring additional calories for body temperature regulation at approximately 50F. Add about 2 pounds more hay for every 10 degree temperature drop. With wind and rain at near-freezing temperatures, the feed required increases by approximately 10 to 15 pounds to 32 to 47 pounds of hay per day!

Water is critical for digestion. Optimum water temperature for maximum palatability is 45 to 65 F. Horses tend to consume less if it falls outside this range, making them more prone to poor digestion efficiency, dehydration, and intestinal impactions.

Evaluating your horse's feed regimen regularly can help reduce stress on his body from inadequate nutrition. When you can't see your horse's body condition through the hair or blankets, get your hands on him regularly (at least a couple of times a week). For a horse in good body condition, the back should be level (no crease or ridge), the ribs felt, but not easily seen, fat around tailhead should feel spongy, the withers should be rounded, and the shoulders and neck should blend smoothly into the body.

Web hpj.com

Copyright 1995-2014.  High Plains Publishers, Inc.  All rights reserved.  Any republishing of these pages, including electronic reproduction of the editorial archives or classified advertising, is strictly prohibited. If you have questions or comments you can reach us at
High Plains Journal 1500 E. Wyatt Earp Blvd., P.O. Box 760, Dodge City, KS 67801 or call 1-800-452-7171. Email: webmaster@hpj.com


Archives Search

NCBA Convention

United Sorghum Checkoff Program

Inside Futures

Editorial Archives

Browse Archives