Extension Agent: Supplement cattle in winter

By Peter J. McGuill
Nov. 27, 2012 at 5:27 a.m.

Peter McGuill

Peter McGuill

Meeting the nutritional needs of cattle during the winter months has been a challenge for ranchers since the first fence was built and cattle were no longer able to range freely to survive. Under our current production management systems with a keen eye on profitability, this task becomes even more important.

The cost and difficulty of managing a cow through the winter depends primarily on the weather. In South Texas, the weather can range from very mild and almost summerlike to wet, cold and miserable. At this point in the year, do you know which it will be? I don't think any of us can predict that with any certainty. Therefore, we have to prepare for the worst and hope for the best.

The nutrient needs of cattle vary depending on age, pregnancy status, current body condition and your personal goals on the condition of your cattle. Young developing cattle and cows that are milking have the highest nutrient demands, while mature dry cows will have the lowest needs. To meet these feeding demands, most producers depend heavily on baled hay. The use of this stored forage works quite well to provide needed nutrients to livestock; however, it may not be enough. The nutrient content of hay varies greatly depending on the type of grass and how mature it was when baled. High quality hay - 12 percent crude protein or higher - will meet the protein demands of most classes of beef cattle. Hay that has a protein content of 7 percent or less will not meet the requirements of any class of cattle without the need to supplement additional protein. The bottom line on supplementing hay in the winter time is to test your hay for protein and energy content. This information will help you make informed decisions to develop a strategy to supplement that hay with other sources of protein and energy.

As stated previously, the severity of the weather plays a critical role in the nutritional demands of cattle during the winter months. A cold, wet winter will require livestock to use more calories to provide body warmth, mobility in muddy conditions and basic body function as compared to a warm, mild winter. To further the impacts, wet winters also cause rapid loss of dormant standing forage that you may have been counting on for grazing.

There are several methods that ranchers use to supplement cattle. Liquid feed products, protein tubs, bulk or bagged cubes, custom bulk rations and commodities such as whole cotton seed, corn and milo are all acceptable ways to meet the nutritional needs of your herd. Considerations for which is right for you are labor, storage facilities and cost. Typically, the more convenient the product is to utilize, the more expensive it will be, whereas products that will require you to mix, store or handle will be less expensive, but also more labor intensive.

Other deficiencies that need to be addressed in the winter months are vitamin and mineral deficiencies in beef cattle. Dormant and low quality forages lack many of the essential vitamins and minerals that cattle need for proper metabolic and system function. Providing free choice mineral supplements that are protected from the weather will help you to address this concern. It is highly recommended that you develop a good working relationship with your feed dealer to determine the best method of herd supplementation for your operation based on your needs, resources and goals.

For more information on this or for other agriculturally related information, contact the Victoria County office of the Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service or email pjmcguill@ag.tamu.edu.

Peter J. McGuill is the Victoria County extension agent - ag and natural resources. Contact him at 361-575-4581 or pjmcguill@ag.tamu.edu.



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