During cold weather, take steps to minimize cold stress and windchill. “Here on the Northern Plains, it’s windy all the time, so windchill can be a huge factor,” says Megan Van Emon, Extension beef cattle specialist at Montana State University.
“Adaptation of cattle to winter temperatures [making a transition during fall] can help, but the past two years we’ve gone from 50 degrees F in the fall to a sudden drop — down to 20 below zero — within a week.”
That, needless to say, is hard on cattle. “Nutritional requirements increase dramatically when temperature drops below 32 degrees. If cattle have time to adapt gradually, developing a good hair coat, their critical temperature is lower,” she explains.
You can help your cows overcome cold weather fluctuations with windbreaks. “If they have a place to avoid most of the snow and wind, they do better and maintain body condition and stay warmer. When they have to start using body fat to generate heat and maintain themselves and fetal growth, this can be very detrimental,” she says.
And don’t forget your bulls. “Bulls are sometimes neglected in winter. We put them in a separate pen or pasture and maybe don’t really look at them until the next spring,” says Shannon Williams, Lemhi County Extension educator, Salmon, Idaho.
They need to be monitored, too. If one develops a problem, you need to know about it sooner rather than later, so you can deal with it.
If bulls are fed (not grazing only), plan to feed them appropriately. “Bulls are bigger than cows and need more feed, and some may need to regain body condition to be ready for the next breeding season. They don’t need to be fat, but they do need to be in adequate body condition,” she says.
Smith Thomas is a rancher and freelance writer based in Salmon, Idaho.