AUBURN, Alabama – Most of us are aware of how harsh the winter weather can be on machinery, equipment and people, but it is easy to forget how those conditions affect livestock. Extreme weather in February and March impacted livestock across Alabama, requiring many cattlemen to adjust their cattle management strategies.
“To be able to do their daily tasks, cattle have to have an increased amount of energy during the cold weather because they’re using it to keep their body temperature stable. So we needed to provide them with an extra plane of nutrition to provide the energy that they’re using up during the cold weather,” said Mullenix. One strategy was to use some type of supplemental feed.
“Usually this is something that is high in energy to help them combat against the cold weather,” said Mullenix, who is also an assistant professor of animal science at Auburn University.
These tactics primarily served to fulfill the cattle’s maintenance energy requirements. Maintenance energy is the amount of nutrients used by the animal on a daily basis for basic functions. However, the nutritional demand on a cow that has just calved is even higher.
“The cold weather can have a lingering effect on cows that have just calved. That cow’s nutritional requirements can be very high at that time period right after it’s given birth to that calf and trying to provide it milk,” said Mullenix.
To alleviate the stress on the mother, many producers will consider early weaning if cows have lost significant weight and condition.
Another issue that arises is decreased pasture growth. The frigid weather slows down cool-season pasture growth, forcing cattle producers to look at alternative feeding strategies for that period. According to Mullenix, one strategy was to offer the livestock free-choice hay or use limit-grazing when possible.
While cold weather has passed that doesn’t necessarily mean the cows are in the clear.
“Even if it was really cold outside for a 2-3 day period, that animal is still going to spend several days trying to recover all the energy that was lost trying to maintain its body temperature during the cold weather,” said Mullenix.
To learn more about caring for cattle in cold weather conditions, read the Cold Weather and Forage Conditions for Cattlemen.