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Is your herd ready for winter?

Jeff Caldwell 12/19/2012 @ 11:20am Multimedia Editor for Agriculture.com and Successful Farming magazine.

A major winter blast is working its way across the nation's center this week. Are you ready?

If you raise cattle in an area in the storm's path, good preparation will be the difference between a healthy and unhealthy herd during and after the storm's passage, says Purdue University Extension beef specialist Ron Lemenager. First, make sure you're feeding everything your cattle need. If you want to maintain rate of gain, be ready to bump up the forage you're feeding to help the animals keep up with the increase in energy loss that occurs when the temperatures drop.

If you're relying on grazing for the bulk of your herd's feed over the winter, don't do so without planning ahead and managing your pasture acres precisely so that you don't overgraze and do more damage to your pasture than it can recover from soon after winter breaks.

"If you're in an area where wintering cows on pasture is feasible, create a sacrifice area for tromping so cows don't tromp all your acreage and damage chances for regrowth next season," Lemenager says. "Designating one area saves a whole pasture from being abused, and it's much cheaper than having to redo an entire pasture."

Next, don't leave your animals out in the cold without some kind of structure to block the high winds that come with any major blizzard. Windbreaks -- whether trees or other structures -- are critical to cattle maintaining body temperatures, which in turn affect how much energy the animals use and how much feed is required.

"For each 10-degree temperature drop in wind chill below 30 degrees Fahrenheit, the energy requirement of a cow goes up by 13% in animals with moderate body conditions and dry winter hair coats. If a cow is wet or thin, the energy requirement goes up by 30% for each 10-degree drop," according to Lemenager. "For example, in a thin cow at 0 degrees wind chill, the cow's energy requirement has increased 90%. She needs additional energy and protein, such as corn or distillers' grains."

In addition to the right feed rations and wind protection, make sure your cattle have access to plenty of water. This is actually more important than feed supplies, Lemenager says.

"If animals don't drink water, they don't eat," he says. "Producers should frostproof their water supplies, either by using tank heaters or chipping ice in ponds. We often forget about reviewing our water sources, but now's a good time to double-check those tank heaters before we get into the blistering cold of winter."

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