All About Grazing:Plan now to keep your cows grazing through winter’s worst


By David H. Samples

We have been fortunate that most of our winters have been relatively mild. Here in southern Ohio, we generally don’t see extremely low temperatures for an extended period of time or unmanageable amounts of snow.

Comfort zone. As a result, we tend to get rather comfortable with those moderate conditions and just go about our business as if everything is under control and nothing is going to change.

Life does have a way of giving us a wake up call… Surprise! You get up in the morning to find everything covered with 10 inches of wet snow, when all that was predicted was a trace.

That’s not all that bad, but by lunch it’s up to 20 inches and by supper it finally stops at 26 inches.

Can your livestock graze now? If you move them into shelter for feeding, can the roof hold up to the weight?

Extreme example. Let’s take that a little further. You now have 20 plus inches of wet snow that begin to bring power lines down. You already knew that it was supposed to get colder, but 32 below wasn’t what was expected.

If the livestock can get to water, is it frozen? With the power out and the temperature this low, can you get a tractor started to haul feed or anything else? It’s probably a pretty good struggle just motivating yourself to go outside.

OK. You can call me a pessimist if you want to, but these situations do occur. I’ve seen enough producers scrambling to take care of their animals’ needs and I know it’s not because they’re poor managers. We all tend to get too comfortable and then we get caught.

Last winter’s snow and ice storm brought yet another challenging dimension to our southern Ohio scenery and that experience is what spurred my thoughts into this writing.

I know it’s impossible to plan for every situation, and what works for one may not work for another. However, the following thoughts may help in developing a plan that works for you.


* Plan to have feed supplies and livestock in close proximity when snow events are predicted in your area. Cattle can graze stockpiled forages through several inches of snow as long as it isn’t crusted over.

Having hay or other feedstuffs accessible near, or in, the field could solve a lot of headaches if moving the livestock into a planned feeding area isn’t an option.

* Although livestock are designed to survive in outdoor conditions, we need to remember that they have comfort zones as well. The lower critical temperature for a beef animal with a dry, heavy winter coat is about 18 degrees. When wet, that temperature rises to 59 degrees.

Under cold stress, the animal’s energy needs increase and the digestibility of feedstuffs decreases. To compensate for the increased energy demand, we need to increase the amount of feed offered by 1 percent for every degree below the lower critical temperature.

We also need to increase the amount of feed 1 percent for every 10 degrees of cold stress to offset the decreased digestibility.


* Have some type of backup water supply just in case you encounter extended deep freeze conditions, power outages or waterline breaks.

This might include a portable water tank or an easily accessible water storage supply and drink tank.

Water intake of livestock is fairly constant up to 40 degrees so make sure you can provide enough quality water to meet the needs of all your animals.

For example, an 1,100 pound wintering, pregnant beef cow will drink between 6 and 7 gallons of water per day. A herd of 20 cows will need between 120 and 140 gallons of water each day.

Lactating beef cows will require nearly double that amount and producing dairy cows will consume more than 20 gallons a day.

Rest easier. Hopefully you will never have to pull your emergency plan off the shelf, but you may rest a little easier knowing some planning is in place.

(The author is an OSU Extension Agriculture and Natural Resources Agent in Jackson County. Questions or comments can be sent in care of Farm and Dairy, P.O. Box 38, Salem OH 44460.)


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