Skagit Farmers Supply

Cozy Cattle

Cozy Cattle by Skagit Farmers Supply Rural Living Consultant Bailie Welton

Winter is the time of year where we love to bundle up, sit by the fire, and enjoy a warm beverage. We know to add a heat lamp to our chicken coops, throw a blanket over our horse, have even invested in a warming water dish for the dogs, and bought a self-warming bed for the cats. But now we may be stumped on how to keep our cattle cozy in the cold.

When temperatures start to drop in winter, especially when they drop below freezing, it’s time to consider what effect this is having on our cows. Like all mammals, cows are warm blooded and need to maintain a constant core body temperature. Within the range of environmental temperatures called the “thermoneutral zone,” animals do not have to expend any extra energy to maintain their body temperature. However, when temperatures drop below the limits of the thermoneutral zone, in the “lower critical temperature,” the animal experiences cold stress. “Based on coat density and dryness, a cows’ lower critical temperature can range from 59°F with a summer or wet coat, to 18°F with a heavy winter coat. A cow placed in this situation can experience severe cold stress and possible hypothermia.” (University of Idaho College of Animal Science)

Another thing to keep in mind is that cattle, like humans, experience the “effective temperature,” which takes into account both air temperature and the effect of wind chill. Cool or cold wind passing over an animal draws heat away from it much more quickly than still air at the same temperature.

“When your cattle experience prolonged cold stress, hypothermia becomes a real possibility,” warns the National Animal Disease Information Service; NADIS. “With cattle, mild hypothermia occurs with a body temperature of 86°F–89°F, moderate hypothermia at 71°F–85°F and severe hypothermia below 68°F”. (NADIS) As rectal temperature drops below 82°F, cows are not able to return to normal temperature without assistance through warming and the administration of warm fluids. As hypothermia progresses, metabolic and physiological processes slow down, and blood is diverted from the extremities to protect the vital organs. Teats, ears and testes are especially prone to frostbite. In extremes, respiration and heart rate drop, animals lose consciousness and can die.

There are a few management practices recommended by WSU Extension that you can do to help limit the effects of cold stress and insure your cattle are cozy this winter when temperatures begin to drop below freezing.

  • Monitor the weather. Monitor temperature and increase feeding in response to cold weather. Cows in the last trimester require additional grain feeding during periods when the effective temperature falls below the lower critical level.
  • Protect animals from the wind. Wind markedly reduces the effective temperature, increasing cold stress on animals.
  • Bed cows well. Providing adequate dry bedding such as straw makes a significant difference in the ability of cattle to withstand cold stress.
  • Keep cows clean and dry. Wet coats have greatly reduced insulating properties and make cows more susceptible to cold stress. Mud-caked coats also reduce the insulating properties of the hair.
  • Provide additional feed. Feed more hay and grain. If wet feeds are fed, make sure they are not frozen.
  • Provide water. Make sure cows have ample water available at all times. Limiting water will limit feed intake and make it more difficult for cows to meet their energy requirements. Consider adding a tank dunker to your troughs to help prevent water from freezing,

We can’t control the weather but we can do everything reasonably possible to keep our cattle cozy in the cold. Implore these easy management practices on your home farm and insure your cattle’s comfort this season.