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Management

Cold weather can stress livestock, requires additional management

As sub-zero temperatures have settled in across Wyoming over the past several weeks, University of Wyoming Extension Livestock Specialist Scott Lake notes that producers must make sure cattle are able to withstand the cold. 

“There aren’t any secrets to dealing with the cold,” Lake says. 

Caring for cattle in the winter months involves meeting their feed and water requirements, as well as protecting cattle from the elements. 

Meeting feed requirements

“The most important thing is to feed to the requirements of cattle,” Lake comments. “As it gets colder, a cow’s requirements go up.”

The condition of cattle is very important going into winter, he adds, noting that cattle in good shape will be easier to care for.

“For cattle in good shape, their requirements will be lower, but at this point, they are what they are,” Lake says. “Feeding cows is very important when it is cold like this.”

Particularly in late stages of pregnancy, producers need to make sure to feed cattle adequately. 

“Sometimes, producers will have to feed a higher energy density feed because cattle can only eat so much,” Lake adds. “If producers are feeding low-quality hay, it won’t help meet the requirements of cattle in late gestation.”

Feed quality

As gestation progresses, feed quality becomes more important.

“We need to meet energy and protein requirements, and as the calf grows, the rumen volume decreases,” he continues. “Good quality grass or alfalfa hay will meet energy requirements, and alfalfa will add good protein.”

Additional cake supplements can aid in meeting requirements. 

A distiller’s grain-based cake can help to meet energy or protein requirements, but Lake notes that producers should test their feed to ensure requirements are being met.

“Producers should look at their cake requirements, because they won’t be the same for everyone,” he explains. “If feed is adequate in protein, they will need a higher energy cake.”

With expensive feed prices, Lake says that feed tests are important to balance rations.

“Producers don’t want to feed more than they have to,” he comments. “We should be testing our feed, so we know what we have available.”

Not only do sub-zero temperatures affect cattle, wind chill adds additional concerns. 

Wind and water

“The best thing is to get cows and new calves out of the wind,” Lake says. “We have to keep calves dry and out of the wind.”

In addition, after cows calve, their water requirements increase.

“When it is freezing outside, cows don’t drink as much as they do when it is warm, but it is important to give them access to as much water as they will drink,” he explains. “Water consumption can also affect lactation.”

Sheep concerns

Much the same as cattle, sheep also need special care during especially cold months.

“The most important thing is that sheep have some place where they can stay dry,” says Colorado State University Extension Sheep Specialist Steve LeValley. “Wet sheep do not tolerate cold very well.”

Shelter from moisture and a place to dry out if they do get wet is important. LeValley further recommends bedding or straw, as well.

“They can tolerate the cold, but sheep need to be dry,” he says. 

Feed and water

Energy requirements of sheep also increase in cold weather, adds LeValley.

“I personally prefer to supplement sheep with high energy corn,” he says. “Feed grain, as opposed to roughage, is a good idea. Especially in late gestation, it is good to have the extra energy, and ewes can’t eat enough roughage to keep their energy requirements fulfilled.”

LeValley recommends up to one pound of whole corn a day for mature ewes to supplement energy needs.

At the same time, he notes that access to fresh water is very important to maintain ewes.

“Ultimately, I don’t recommend lambing in January because of all these reasons,” LeValley comments. “Some people insist on lambing in January because they have criteria to meet for age or weight, but if producers can get away from it, I don’t recommend it.”

Saige Albert is managing editor of the Wyoming Livestock Roundup and can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..