Barry Yaremcio, beef and forage specialist at the Alberta Ag-Info Centre, offers feed suggestions for animals that have lost condition or dropped weight due to the cold weather.

“Animals that are kept outside – be they cattle, bison or horses – they all increase the amount of feed they consume during the cold weather,” explains Yaremcio. “This is to increase the amount of heat that is generated during the digestion process to stay warm. Using beef cattle as an example, if temperatures drop below -20 C, feed intake can increase by 5 to 30 % compared to a warmer day.”

Because of the cold, Yaremcio says that some producers are noticing that their haystacks or silage pits are emptying a lot faster than what was expected. However, he says that producers have some options even on limited feed supply.

“Cows in late pregnancy can be fed a certain amount of straw per day, which is no different than before the cold weather. “However, the straw cannot be the total increase in feed supplied because it is low in protein, high in fibre which reduces digestibility and rumen efficiency. Good quality hay and additional grain is needed as part of the additional feed supplied. Adding 2 lb. of grain per head per day at -30 C and 4 lb. of additional grain at -40 C is a good starting point.”

“Managing the protein content, calcium and phosphorus, magnesium, trace minerals and vitamins are all important to provide a balanced ration. If hay or silage supplies are very short, feeding roughly 10 lb. of straw per day to a lactating cow with the remainder being silage or hay along with at 10 to 15 lb. – or more – of grain per head per day may be necessary. Grain feeding rates will depend on the quality of the other feeds and forages.”

Yaremcio says that after calving when including straw in the diet, it is critical to include sufficient amounts of protein. The ration should contain a minimum of 11 % protein on a dry matter basis. Adding faba beans, peas, distillers grains or 32 % with Rumensin are all possibilities.

“Changing and adjusting the feeding program when including lower quality straw is critical. It is possible that calcium and magnesium levels will be low, creating a concern with downer cows or milk fevers.”

He adds to keep eye on the animal’s body condition score. “When a cow loses body condition score prior to calving, the energy availability the cow to produce milk after calving is reduced because there is less fat to mobilize off her back in addition to the feed that is providing them with energy.”

“If the cow can’t mobilize the extra fat to get energy to produce milk, peak milk production is going to go down. If you lose two pounds of milk production off the peak at eight weeks after calving, your loss of milk production over the entire length of that lactation period is going to be down that two pounds. It is not just the peak that is lost, but the two pounds all the way through.”

“If cows are losing weight between calving and when the bulls are turned out, it takes longer for the cows to start cycling and first service conception rates go down,” explains Yaremcio. “Therefore, you are either going to have a bunch of calves born later in the calving season next year, or that cow might be open and gets culled.”

Yaremcio says that bringing the cows back into condition will take a little more attention to details. “Get some extra help working through current rations. Or, use the CowBytes program and readjust them as soon as possible to allow the largest amount of time to regain condition before the breeding season begins. Feeding an extra two, three or four pounds of grain a day over above what is fed in warmer conditions is a starting point. The extra grain will help increase weight gains by about one-half to three-quarters of a pound a day. That is over and above fetal and placenta growth for cows in late pregnancy and some weight gain for lactating cows.”

Yaremcio’s Agri-News article Cattle and cold temperatures, outlines how to lessen the stress on animals during cold weather.


To connect with the Alberta Ag-Info Centre:

Hours: 8:15 am to 4:30 pm (open Monday to Friday, closed statutory holidays)
Toll free: 310-FARM (3276)