When It’s Cold, Cows Need More Feed

This comes to us from January of 2018 just after an especially cold winter storm. Thanks to  Steve Tonn, University of Nebraska Extension Educator, for this article! The cold blast we had in December makes us think there is more cold weather ahead. When feeding cows we need to consider the effect of weather conditions. Dr. Glenn Selk, Oklahoma State University Emeritus Extension Animal Scientist, offers these tips for feeding cows in cold weather. The major effect of cold on nutrient requirement of cows is increased need for energy. To determine magnitude of cold, lower critical temperature for beef cows must first be estimated. For cows with a dry winter hair coat the lower critical temperature is considered to be 32 degrees F. In general, researchers have used the rule of thumb that cows' energy requirements increase 1% for each degree the wind chill is below the 32 degree lower critical temperature. Therefore the calculation example for a cow with a winter dry hair coat would be: Step 1: Cow's lower critical temperature is 32 degrees F. Step 2: Expected wind-chill from weather reports (let’s use 4 degrees wind chill in this example) Step 3: Calculate the magnitude of the cold: 32 degrees - 4 degrees = 28 degrees Step 4: Energy adjustment is 1% for each degree magnitude of cold or 28%. Step 5: Feed cows 128% of daily energy amount. (if a cow was to receive 16 pounds of high quality grass/legume hay; then feed 20.5 pounds of hay during the cold weather event).

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5 thoughts on “When It’s Cold, Cows Need More Feed

    1. Agreed, Gene, that my dry cattle are comfortable to the teens with no wind, and are content with their normal stockpile and quality hay.

      But the current storm system has them (and me) thoroughly wet. Winds picking up and temps dropping all day. Rain passing through again and more bands to come.

      I’m sitting by the wood stove drying out, warming up, and could stand to drop a few lbs. But any cattle weight lost through this storm, by the more timid ones in my herd, it likely won’t be gained back for months.

      So the article Kathy posted has pushed me to get back out (between rains), move the polywire again, and feed more hay at the pasture edge. Thankfully the mud will be frozen hard in the morning!

  1. Another strategy to limit heat loss: where possible, allow cattle to seek areas out of the wind, moving a bit if wind shifts during storms. Trees, hollows, ravines, brush, leeward sides of hills, etc. Given the chance, they’ll seek out those spots with the least windchill, the drier places to bed down, and conserve limited body fat.
    If I pay attention, they’ll teach me where they want to be in the worst storms of the season. If I plan ahead, can make those available again, and have hay nearby.

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