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4 quick tips to get your cattle winter-ready

Jeff Caldwell 11/26/2013 @ 7:55pm Multimedia Editor for Agriculture.com and Successful Farming magazine.

It's cold out there these days. Probably the last place you want to spend time is out in your pastures and pens. But doing so right now could pay major dividends down the road when it comes to the performance of your cattle herd.

Though Mother Nature may try to convince you otherwise, now is a great time to take stock of not just your forage stands and quality, but also any nutritional supplements. And make sure it all meets up with your herd's nutritional needs, says Purdue University Extension beef specialist Ron Lemenager. If you need to nail down more supply, this year's early-winter weeks make it a particularly good time to make sure you're all set for winter and beyond.

"The market's somewhat lower now, and it's a good time to start checking supplement prices," Lemenager says, adding that products like corn co-products like corn gluten and distillers' grains and other grain products like soybean hulls can make cost-efficient supplements for animals relying on hay through the winter.

Corn is cheaper than it has been in a while right now, so your instinct might be to jump at the grain to meet the same needs as these other products. But look at your herd's nutritional needs closely before pulling the trigger, Lemenager advises.


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"Beef producers should ensure there are adequate minerals and vitamins in the diet by providing a high-quality vitamin/mineral mix," he says in a university report. "Minerals are especially important to immune function and reproduction."

Beyond ensuring your animals' nutritional needs will be met through winter, Lemenager advises the following steps for early-winter herd-management planning:

  • Take care of your weaning. If you have a spring-calving herd, make sure those calves are weaned. If you calve in the fall, consider early weaning to cut cut back on the supplemental nutritional needs of lactating cows, Lemenager says.

  • Get your vaccinations done. "Now that we've had a killing frost, it's time to consider deworming and vaccinating cows and calves," he adds.

  • Prepare your facilities. Winterizing things like waterers now can save you a lot of headaches and dirty work when the weather outside is even more frightful. "Make sure tank heaters and electric waterers are winterized, running, and ready to go," Lemenager says.

  • Consider adding windbreaks or other protective structures to limit cattle stress from the cold, windy conditions common later in the winter. "If we can reduce wind chill factors, that dramatically reduces energy requirements of cows," he adds.

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