A full stomach and access to water are essential to keeping cattle healthy during cold weather. “Cattle are well-adapted to stand extremes in climatic conditions,” says Tom Troxel, beef cattle specialist with the University of Arkansas Cooperative Extension Service. But to survive the cold, they need the heat created during eating to help maintain body temperature, he said.
“Because cattle are ruminate animals, microbial fermentation in the rumen results in heat production. One factor that changes when temperatures drop, is that cattle will eat more.”
The increase in food intake is stimulated anywhere from 2 to 10 percent, depending on the temperature. If the temperature drops to 5 degrees, for instance, the intake is stimulated by as much as 10 percent.
When temperatures are between 23 and 41 degrees, a 30-head cowherd needs an extra 30 to 60 pounds of feed a day, according to Troxel. He added that hay should be the main ingredient in a beef cattle feeding ration. “This additional feed intake is important for a cow to maintain her body temperature and body condition. Body condition is the amount fat reserves a cow has on her body.”
Body condition plays an important role in keeping the cow healthy through short-term weather related events, Troxel noted. During a rainstorm, for instance, it's not uncommon for feed intake in cattle to be temporarily depressed. During this period, the cow can use body reserves to maintain a healthy state.
Cows have to adapt to a number of environmental factors, including air movement, precipitation, humidity and thermal radiation, the specialist said. He said they can stand cold temperatures, especially in bright sunlight, by drawing heat from the sun to help them maintain body temperature.
A cow's best friend during cold weather is the cattle producer, said Troxel. “When most of us are inside staying warm, beef cattle producers are feeding their cattle or breaking ice so their cattle will have water to drink.”