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Are You Increasing Your Cows’ Feed Intake In Cold Weather?

winter feed intake for cows

As I write this, it’s a whiteout outside my house. Blustery 30-mph winds and blowing snow have created ground-blizzard conditions. Our cattle spent the morning grazing cornstalks, but now are tucked tightly behind a windbreak waiting for the storm to pass. Availability of such shelter is extremely important, but when adverse weather conditions hit, it’s also important to increase the feed intake in your cattle.

According to J.J. Barrett, a West Virginia University Extension agricultural agent, cold weather can increase livestock’s feed intake up to 30% due to the increased maintenance energy requirements.

"Livestock will need more feed to combat cold stress during this harsh weather. Access to water, shelter from the wind and extra bedding will help until a warm-up occurs. As a general rule, healthy animals in good body condition that are acclimated to cold weather and have a good winter hair coat will do fine until the ambient temperature drops below 20°F. Below that, animals must compensate for heat loss by increasing their energy intake, to increase heat production and maintain their body temperature,” Barrett said in a recent interview with


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When the temperature drops, and its snowy and blowing, it’s important to consider the cow’s body condition score and the quality of the feed being offered. Depending on the weather’s severity, a decision to increase the feed intake for the cow’s energy requirements may be called for.

According to University of Nebraska-Lincoln Extension, “If the total digestible nutrients (TDN) requirements of the cows are 12 lbs. of TDN/head/day for this week, you would consider bumping the ration to 15.5 lbs./head/day. This is an increase of 3.5 lbs. of TDN/head/day. If grass hay is 57% TDN, that’s an increase of about 6 lbs./head/day on a dry matter (DM) basis. If the hay is 88% DM, that would mean each cow receives an additional 7 lbs./head/day. If these cows were being fed 24 lbs./head/day under current conditions, could they eat 31 lbs./head/day during the harsh weather condition? For a 1,200-lb. cow, this calculates to about 2.3% of her body weight on a DM basis.”

Do you increase feed intake when the weather gets bad? How is the weather in your neck of the woods? Leave your thoughts in the comments section below.


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