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Reducing Cold Stress In Cattle

Most cattle producers know when their animals are cold. They see them huddling together with heads down and backs to the wind. Their bodies try to produce heat by using more of their feed energy which can affect gain and feed efficiency.

Russ Euken is an extension beef specialist at Iowa State University. He says the main protection cattle have from cold stress comes from the insulation provided by their hair coat. The lower critical temperature is the effective temperature when the animal starts using more energy for body maintenance.

"Some research would show that if cattle have a summer hair coat or very thin hair coat, or if their hair coat is wet and there’s no insulation value, that lower critical temperature is in the 50’s," says Euken. "But if they’ve got that heavy winter hair coat and it’s dry, that lower critical temperature where they start feeling cold stress can be down in the teens." 

Providing wind protection will certainly help them be more comfortable. A roof or building can be more expensive but it doesn’t have to be anything fancy.

"Any kind of a shelter that allows cattle to get behind that and get out of the wind, particularly on the north and west side in most parts of the country is where you’re going to try and protect cattle. Either building some sort of a wind break or having some natural tree barrier, that sort of thing," he says. "Out in pasture, sometimes landscape geography, topography, you know those types of things work as well."

If you can, throw down some bedding to help keep the animals dry and their hair coat from becoming matted. Provide higher quality forage or supplement the diet with grain or by-products to meet their higher energy needs during cold weather. Also be sure there is plenty of fresh water. Snow and ice don’t count.

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