Frigid temperatures lead to important livestock management decisions

Livestock producers should consider implementing some management practices as the region's temperatures stay steadily below zero degrees.

Increased consumption of calories and protein help animals stay warm when the temperatures drop. Photo taken March 2021. Emily Beal / Agweek

Though the region’s winter started off milder than average, frigid temperatures are now here to stay.

Due to the aggressively cold temperatures, the overall health and wellness of livestock are at a higher risk for disease and sickness. Livestock producers and ranchers should consider making changes to their management practices to keep their herd healthy through the winter months.

“Animals that are exposed to cold temperatures have to figure out how to keep their body function going and how to keep themselves warm,” said Russ Daly, South Dakota State University Extension veterinarian and professor.

Animals that are spending too much time dealing with cold temperatures are not going to be putting energy into their growth, immune system, or, for pregnant cows, developing the fetus. Daly said that the prolonged cold snaps are really the periods that impact the animals the most. To help combat the elongated cold temperatures and help boost the herd’s health and immune system, nutrition is a major key to the livestock’s overall success. When the weather dips, producers should begin feeding more protein and calories.

“The challenge simply there is to feed the furnace of that ruminant animal. If you can feed that with the right feed, there is enough energy to burn in what they’re feeding to keep that cow warm,” said Gerald Stokka, North Dakota State University Extension veterinarian and livestock stewardship specialist. “It still amazes me that this works as well as it does in these frigid temperatures, like negative 20.”


Another important thing producers should consider is offering their herd some sort of protection from Mother Nature. These areas of protection could be shelters, windbreaks or some sort of item that helps break the wind and gives the animals some coverage from the weather. Producers should also make sure that their herd has access to fresh water and that it is not frozen over. While cattle can eat snow, according to Stokka, it is not the best option in terms of hydration.

Wet bedding, if laid upon in frigid temperatures, can pull a large amount of heat out of the animal's body. Due to this, ranchers should make sure that their herd’s bedding is dry in an effort to help the animal’s body stay warm.

“Keeping dry bedding in their lots will really help producers keep those animals from zapping that heat out of their bodies,” Daly said.

In terms of calves, Daly urges producers to make sure their calves are getting colostrum in their first few hours of life. This will help the calf’s body temperature stay warm and help build their overall immune system.

Emily grew up on a small grains and goat farm in southern Ohio. After graduating from The Ohio State University, she moved to Fargo, North Dakota to pursue a career in ag journalism with Agweek. She enjoys reporting on livestock and local agricultural businesses.
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