The weather has been very challenging here to say the least. 2015 was the fourth wettest on record. Between Thanksgiving and New Years we’ve had close to a foot of rain. That just is not good since it doesn’t dry out that time of year. When that is coupled with temps that are 50 degrees on Thursday and 20 below on Monday it can create a lot of stress on cattle, and the care giver.
So what is a guy to do? The main focus is to take the stress off the cattle.
When it gets just terrible cold I typically will not rush out to feed. In 17 years of experience I have learned it’s not necessary. On a typical nice January day I may head out around 7 a.m. When it gets 0 degrees or colder I may wait until 8 or a bit later. The reason is I have noticed that the cattle don’t care to get up and move much at that time. Sunrise is usually the coldest part of the day, so it seems to be to their liking to wait a little while and let it start to warm up a bit.
I will start the tractors and let them warm up. While they are doing that I will walk all the pens. This walk will be over a mile in distance. It is not the most fun you will have when bundled up in all that heavy winter clothing. I will not move to fast so that I won’t begin to sweat. If that happens I will begin to get cold rather quickly.
I will go in every pen, and chip ice off the water tanks if they need it. Water is the first limiting nutrient for cattle, making it the most important. They need water to help with digestion, which in turn helps keep their furnace running. Let me explain that. When a calf ruminates, he is acquiring nutrients from plant-based food by fermenting it in a specialized stomach prior to digestion, through microbial actions. The process typically requires the fermented cud to be regurgitated and chewed again. The process of rechewing the cud to further break down plant matter and stimulate digestion is called rumination. Rumination helps them generate body heat. This process can cause them to elevate their body temperature above normal by a few degrees. Couple that with their winter hair coats and that heavy leather hide and they handle the weather very well.
While I am in the pens I will make sure each and every single calf gets up. This is critical. Each critter may be feeling just fine. They may be ruminating, napping or just chilling. They will have a good spot picked out that is out of the wind and be very comfortable. I get them up because they may just stay there other wise, and not come eat when I feed them. When it gets that darn cold they will consume more feed. If one calf doesn’t get up and go eat his pen mates may eat it all leaving him none. This will cause him to get stressed. First off he is hungry and second he will not have the fuel to ruminate. These two stressors can cause him to not feel well, and this could be a problem. We do not want stressed cattle because they may get sick. Just the simple task of getting them up can prevent a lot of problems.
Later on in the day I will take the cattle for a walk. Exercise is good for them. When the ground is frozen solid they will move slowly because it is hard on their feet. I will apply enough pressure to move them around but not so much that they feel like they need to get away from me quickly. A precaution to prevent them from injuring themselves on the rutted ground. Sometimes I just move them around their home pen a bit but usually I get them out in the alley ways. This gives them the chance to walk 3/8 of a mile one way and also they get to see cattle in the other pens. This will stimulate those cattle as well.
Upon returning to their home pen the cattle will usually eat a little or get a drink.
The three most important things a calf can do for optimum health is exercise, rest, and eat and drink. We just did all three of those things. Simple stuff. I have learned that if you want to manage for healthy cattle you must do healthy cattle things.
Keeping the pens maintained is important too. I keep a portion of the pen scraped to keep the mud and manure down to a minimum. When you get as much rain as we did in December this can be difficult to do, just because of all the slop, but the best attempt to do it must be made. As I said rest is critical for the cattle so we must provide a good area for them to lay down.
If the weather gets really bad for a period of time I will bed them. This means I will roll out a bale of some kind of cheap forage that is really not a good feed source. This bedding helps give them a barrier between wet ground, or just an insulation layer between them and frozen ground.
Yesterday morning when I did my normal routine it was 20 below. When I fed again in the evening it was in the teens. My cattle were running around their pens, bucking and sparring with one another (more exercise). This is a behavior of healthy, happy, stress free cattle! Mission accomplished. Thing is we start it all over again the next morning.