NDSU Extension - Mercer County

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Feeding Cattle in Cold Temperatures

feeding cattle in cold temperatures, cattle nutrition, feed management

Submitted by Craig Askim, Extension Agent/Agriculture and Natural Resources

Winter weather hit North Dakota hard over the last few weeks. While this is not uncommon, it has been a while since we have experienced temperatures this cold. With these cold temperatures, we’ve had to adjust how to handle ourselves outdoors. This also holds true when it comes to meeting our feed requirements of cattle during these cold conditions. We must remember that most cattle during this time of year have their highest nutritional requirements, because most cattle are in their third trimester of pregnancy.

When it comes to cattle nutrition, producers should base their feeding decisions on the basic nutritional standard need for the cattle. The nutritional requirements for cattle will vary based on their age and calving dates. Therefore, ranchers must understand all these factors when making decisions on what type of feeds they are going to feed their cattle.

To start the process, ranchers should have their feed supplies tested so they have an understanding of the available nutrients they have on hand to feed. You simply cannot balance a ration if you do not know what you are working with.

For cattle, a basic minimum nutritional requirement is a ration that has at least 57% total digestible nutrients (TDN) with at least a 9% protein content, up until around eight months of pregnancy. Once cattle reach eight months of pregnancy the basic nutritional requirements go up to 60% (TDN) with an 11% protein content. During extreme cold weather these basic requirements may not be reachable; because the temperature factor and wind chill affect the consumption ability that a cow can eat during a 24-hour period. Cattle cannot eat enough to meet the basic daily nutritional requirement, so a rancher can only do the best he can.

The second part of meeting a feed requirement of cattle is water. Water is a nutritional requirement that many times is overlooked. Water accounts for 50 to 81% of an animals total body weight, and plays a huge role in body temperature, growth, reproduction, lactation, digestion and lubrication of muscles and joints. Once again, the amount of water a cow needs on a daily basis varies depending on factors such as age, pregnancy, lactation, diet and weather.

At 40°F, an 1100-pound pregnant cow will drink around 6 gallons of water a day, while a 1400-pound bull needs eight gallons of water per day. However; if the temperature drops to zero degrees the water requirement increases by about three times to around 16 gallons per day for an 1100 pound pregnant cow, and about 20 gallons a day for a 1400 pound bull.  Therefore, the question becomes, how big are your cows and bulls?  In many cases, cows and bulls in Mercer County weigh more than 1100 and 1400 pounds, so adjust accordingly.

Having a good understanding of the age and size of your cattle along with water and feed test sample results will give you a good foundation of information on how to feed your cattle correctly and efficiently. Though this takes time to figure out, a good feed management plan will save cattle producers huge amounts of dollars, and increase their bottom-line. The number one expense in cattle production is feed and water. Taking a little time to manage feed supplies and water will put more dollars in your pocket.

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