NDSU Extension - Williams County


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January 21, 2016- Winter Feeding Strategies for Cattle


North Dakota State University has a publication out titled Alternative Winter Feeding Strategies for Beef Cattle Management authored by Chris Augustin, John Dhuyvetter and Mary Berg who are NDSU Extension Staff and Karl Rockeman, Division of Water Quality, North Dakota Department of Health staff. With the cold North Dakota Winters, beef producers generally bring the cows into a more confined space. This is done for easier feed and calving, figuring out easier or more effective feeding strategies is something that many seek out.

Bale grazing is an option that involves strategically placing hay bales throughout a field (crop or hay land) and utilizing fencing, barbed or electric, to allocate bales incrementally to the herd. One advantage of this option is more uniform manure distribution could happen with periodically moving the fenced feeding area for the herd. Swath grazing is another option. It involves swathing a summer-grown annual or perennial forage prior to a killing frost. Making sure the swaths are on top of the stubble, narrow and as deep as possible to reduce spoilage of the swathed forage. There are a few advantages of swath grazing, utilization is improved by limiting animal access to amount of forage that can be consumed during the week. Also frost-tolerant cover crops, such as turnips and cereals, maintain their quality as late as December. There is one disadvantage of swath grazing, those cover crops can be covered by snow easily, reducing accessibility.

While having livestock in a smaller confined area, we want them to stay warm during the cold winter months. Portable windbreaks are a great options that can help cattle out during extreme cold periods. Cattle utilize most of their nutrient intake to meet maintenance requirements, which leave very little nutrients for weight gain. Windbreak fences, portable or permanent, provide cattle shelter to help them reduce their maintenance requirement. When cattle are spending less time trying to stay warm, with help from windbreaks, there will be more nutrients for the cow and her calf.  Multiple materials can be used to construct portable wind fences, utilizing materials that are durable will increase longevity of fences and save you money. A durable option would be a windbreak constructed on 25-foot lengths of pipe frame with board slots, guardrails or sheets of steel. Paneling of that material of 6 to 10 inches works well. Windbreaks should allow 20% of the wind to pass through, which is enough to reduce wind speed but prevent drifting snow. Slots that are greater than two inches apart allow too much wind through.

Maintaining a healthy Body Condition Score (BCS) while pregnant is extremely important, frequently testing feed and monitoring cattle is the best management tool. Depending on the protein or energy levels of the forage being fed, mineral supplements may need to be added. Along with the nutrients, fresh water is just as important. When air temperatures are less than 29 F, cattle require two to three pounds of water per pound of dry matter intake. Using portable waterers powered by solar, wind or a generator may be used, while stationary waters can be heated by electricity, propane or geothermal energy.


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