Farm Credit
Feb 01 2017

Managing Herd Health in Winter Weather

The cold is here, and it is here to stay. During these cold winter months there are few things that should be taken into consideration when properly managing your cow/calf operation. Managing nutrient needs, calf health and insect issues are all challenges that can jeopardize your cow herd if not properly assessed.

            Providing a nutrient plan for your cows is the first step in maintaining nutrient needs throughout the winter. The body condition of all pregnant cattle should be properly assessed and they are recommended to have a body condition score of six. If your cows do not have proper coverage, it will make it very difficult for her to handle the weather, resulting in calving and rebreeding issues. As a general rule, range grasses tend to hold their nutrient values better through the winter months compared to tame or irrigated pastures. However, when grass freezes over it is then necessary to add supplemental feed such as hay, silage, grain or a protein or mineral mix. Without maintaining protein and energy levels during cold months, cattle will rely on their body fat for warmth and this can result in weight loss. Preventing overgrazing prior the cold conditions can also reduce the chances of cows losing too much weight during the winter.

            In addition to cow health, it is important to keep your calves stress free, ensuring that they stay healthy throughout the winter. Enforcing a nutrient plan among your young cattle will confirm that their energy levels stay high. Adjusting milk replacer and your calf starter feed program will help cover increasing energy needs. If a calf is housed at 25°F it is suggested that this calf receive 30% more energy maintenance. In any operation, remember proper water access will improve the feed intake.

            Another winter concern for cattle producers is lice. During the winter months, lice reproduce at a very fast rate and can cause your herd and your bank account serious damage. Cattle with lice infestations may not be as productive with weight gain and milk production, but a sometimes-forgotten cost of lice is property damage as livestock rub on equipment, fences and buildings.

Although it is possible that lice can only be effecting 1-2% of your cattle operation, most likely among bulls and older cows, it can easily spread to the rest of your herd. There are two types of lice that are most commonly seen among cattle: biting lice and sucking lice. Biting lice have a life cycle of around 3-10 weeks and are most commonly a problem near the base of the tail and along the topline, feeding on skin and hair. With a life cycle of 3-6 weeks, sucking lice are more serious because they penetrate the skin and feed on the host’s blood. These lice are commonly seen over the shoulders, down animal’s neck, ears and dewlap or brisket. A non-systemic insecticide is effective against all types of lice. Two doses of should be administered, one dose killing the egg stage lice and the other killing the adult stage lice. These insecticides are available in a pour-on, dust bags and sprays. Systemic products such as avermectins, moxidectin and eprinomectin are stronger approaches against sucking lice.

            The winter can be a stressful time for your operation, but maintaining cow/calf health and reducing insect pressure throughout your cowherd will keep your cattle healthy and your stress levels to a minimum.

For more information on managing your winter health concerns, you can check out the following resources:

http://www.beefmagazine.com/health/winter-cow-care-1001

http://www.beefmagazine.com/blog/tips-managing-lice-cow-herd-during-winter-months

http://extension.psu.edu/animals/dairy/news/2012/minimizing-calf-stress-in-winter-months

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