Nutrition news

Cold Affects a Cow’s Nutritional Needs | Agriculture / Energy

Just before Christmas, I told my husband that I wanted the weather to be more seasonal. “Be careful what you wish for,” he says.

As a native of south-central Nebraska, my idea of ​​winter doesn’t quite match the 70 degree days in December. As you all know, winter arrived in full force on January 1st with extremely cold temperatures and a bit of humidity for some. This recent weather is a reminder of the extra nutrition required by livestock in cold weather.

We must not forget the cold snap of February 2021 and the difficulties encountered by livestock in maintaining their physical condition during this period.

The coat is the first aspect that makes a big difference in the ability of cattle to withstand cold temperatures. The amount of moisture and the degree of wetness of the coat also have an impact on cold tolerance. Precipitation, melting snow or ice increase cold stress.

In addition, cattle with lower body condition (less than BCS 5) have less cold tolerance. All cattle will need supplemental feed to maintain body condition and manage cold stress, but these needs may vary from group to group.

So how much extra nutrition are we talking about? It’s easy to just say that cows will need more groceries in cold weather, but let’s look at some data to give us a better target of increased nutritional needs. The Mesonet Cattle Comfort Advisor is a great tool to get an idea of ​​cold (and hot) conditions and their impact on cattle performance.

According to the Mesonet Cattle Comfort Advisor, the energy needs of cows increase by 1% for each degree that the comfort index of cattle is lower than 32. This energy need would double to 2% if the animal is wet to the skin. . Remember that the actual temperature is not always what livestock (and people) feel, and wind chill makes the temperature colder than the actual temperature. Let’s take a realistic example. At 1:30 p.m. on January 6, the cattle comfort index was 11 degrees at Kingfisher. As many will recall, it was dry cold with no humidity. Based on a 1% increase in energy requirement (no moisture), cattle would need 21% more energy to maintain body condition (32°-11° = 21° x 1% = 21%).

So how much would producers need to feed to meet this increased requirement? A producer feeding 20% ​​cubes to pregnant cows should provide an additional 3.5 to 4 pounds of cubes per day to maintain body condition.

The energy needs of lactating cows are much higher, so they will need an additional 4.5 to 5 pounds of 20% cubes per day. Increasing feed allowances like this could cause digestive upset if fed all at once, so it may be beneficial to increase the feed to a lower level before cold weather hits and for a few days after the cold snap to recover some of the energy loss.

Additionally, cows that are only fed two or three times per week may benefit from more frequent feeding to distribute higher feed levels. Better quality hay can also make up for the lack of energy in these situations, but knowing the quality of the hay and the quantity supplied is helpful.

Check out the Mesonet Cattle Comfort Advisor for an idea of ​​the increased energy needs as we move into January and February. The Cattle Comfort Advisor can be found under the Agriculture tab on For assistance in interpreting the nutritional needs of cattle in cold and inclement weather, contact your local OSU extension office for assistance.

Zook is the Northwest Region Livestock Specialist for the Oklahoma Cooperative Extension Service.