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Don't get caught by a winter blast
Winter's been mild in a lot of cattle country thus far. But, that can change in an instant. So, to avoid a lot of trouble and "flaring tempers," here's a quick checklist of things to take care of ahead of time so you're not surprised by a winter blast.
Winterize water sources
Keep the water flowing by insulating outdoor water sources and making sure heating elements are "in working order," says Purdue University Extension beef specialist Ron Lemenager.
Check equipment batteries
Make sure the batteries are charged and at full strength in your tractor, loader and/or other machinery you might need to move feed, snow or anything else in the event of a blizzard. "Make sure diesel tractors needed to move feed or snow are plugged in and ready to go," Lemenager says.
Fix sagging fences
If a fence is sagging to the ground, it can freeze down and obstruct cattle's access to feed. Make sure your fences are tight and off the ground.
Smooth out ruts
This is a tough job during the winter when the ground is frozen up, but during times when there's a lot of snow on the ground and you have feeding to do, it can save you a lot of trouble. Filling ruts with gravel can help eliminate the need to work with a lot of frozen soil.
Beef up wind protection
Good wind protection does more than keep animals feeling warmer; Lemenager says for every 10-degree drop in wind chill factor below 30 degrees, energy requirements increase by 13% for moderately conditioned cows with a dry winter hair coat and 30% for thin cows or cows with a wet or summer hair coat.
Even if you do have good wind protection for your cattle, their nutrient needs are going to be higher when under stress from cold, snowy weather. To offset this danger, make sure you have access to supplemental feed, like distillers grains, corn gluten feed or soybean hulls, Lemenager says.
Make hay and feed more accessible
Moving feedstocks to spots where they're easier to access than normal is a good idea when a blizzard hits. "Move some hay bales to more readily accessible locations for emergency use, as opposed to leaving them all out in the fields," according to Lemenager. "This will prevent the need to plow a large amount of snow to feed cattle."
Provide bedded areas
"For cows and bulls that are outside, it's a good idea to provide some bedding for those cattle so the bulls don't get frostbite on their scrotums and cows don't get chapped teats," Lemenager says. "If these cattle are lying on cold, frozen ground, they lose a lot of heat to that cold surface. Bedding might just mean unrolling a low-quality hay bale, corn stalks or wheat straw."
Have a plan
It's also a good idea to plan ahead -- develop a winter emergency plan including phone numbers and other ways for farm employees and managers to communicate as easily as possible. "When it comes to preparing for winter, keep in mind that we're not worried about a cold, snowy day here and there," Lemenager says. "What we're concerned about is the longer-term events that last several days."
Don't let the mild weather thus far lull you away from making essential preparations for the inevitable this winter.