Fall and winter are challenging times for all livestock, and farmers need to take tough decisions about the number of dairy and beef cattle they want to maintain through winter. For big farmers decisions will be based on commercial considerations, whereas for small farmers sentiment will also play a role. However, for the cattle to remain healthy until spring there will be many financial and practical aspects to be considered. Here are some of the basic requirements for managing cattle throughout the winter.
When temperatures drop, cattle require more nutrients in their diet for maintaining their health. Hence, feed intake will have to be increased during winter and fall. According to experts, the LCT (Lowest Critical Temperature) is 37 degrees Fahrenheit for dry cattle, and the feed will have to be increased for wet cattle by 2% for every one-degree fall in temperature.
Apart from hay, cattle should be given customized supplement formulation that provide balanced minerals, vitamins, proteins, and calories. When the supplements are correctly formulated, they offer better energy than the energy derived from forages. The best option is to feed smaller portions more often, which will not only reduce wastage, but you can also monitor the intake of each animal. Just before onset of fall, it is a good time for vaccinations and deworming.
Like all animals, cattle too, need to get out of foul weather to stay healthy. However, they will not want to stay indoors throughout, and will only need shelter when the weather goes bad. The main effects of the cold will be seen in dairy cattle with lesser yield of milk due to frozen teats. Secondly, when you are able to provide warm shelter, your cattle will be burning lesser calories, which will mean lesser requirement of feed. The type of shelter will depend on the severity of your climatic conditions. If you are providing structured shelter, make sure there is proper ventilation and hay bedding is kept dry and clean as much as possible.
Cattle need fourteen gallons of water per day, and dairy cattle will need much more when they are lactating. Your cattle might eat snow, but providing fresh drinking water is a much better idea, as cattle burn much more calories for melting the snow and it also lowers their body temperature. The optimum temperature for drinking water for cattle is 37 degrees Fahrenheit or more. If you have severe winters, you might need to consider installing heating device for livestock water.
Rains are likely during early winter or fall, and this will create a lot of mud. When mud is mixed with the cattle manure, the conditions become unhealthy for cattle, and there is higher probability of thrush and hoof rot. You will have to remove mud, especially from those areas where your cattle like to congregate. For reducing buildup of mud, you might have to use materials like sand, gravel, woodchips, and tile. However, you will need to replace such material with a fresh batch once it becomes soiled.