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Cattle Rations for Cold Conditions

By: Dwayne Summach, MSc, PAg, Regional Livestock Specialist, Kindersley

Cold weather in West Central Saskatchewan is a certainty at some point in January and February. Making sure livestock are provided with adequate resources to maintain body mass and temperature can be achieved in many different ways. Using a feed test to provide an energy estimate of the hay, greenfeed, silage, swath grazing, standing corn, or other forage is an excellent starting point.

Energy content of the forage is largely determined by stage of maturity at harvest. Much of the hay this year was harvested later than usual, so extra energy may be required. Feeding cereal grains is likely to be the most cost-effective strategy for providing the extra calories needed. The general rule of thumb is to provide an extra three pounds of good quality hay, six pounds of silage or one pound of grain for every five degrees Celsius below minus 20 at mid-day. This assumes the cows have a body condition score of three or better on a five point scale and are receiving a ration that is meeting their maintenance needs.

Grazing standing corn typically provides energy in excess of requirements. This year environmental conditions were right for mould to develop in many of the corn crops. Visible mould is an indication that toxins may be present. One toxin in particular, HT-2 toxin, has been detected in several samples. One indicator that the corn may have this toxin is if the cows are leaving uneaten cobs behind on the ground. Another indicator of the corn containing toxins would be to offer alternate forage to the cows. If they readily consume this forage before grazing a fresh patch of corn, it is time to find out what kind and how much toxin is present.

Spoilage organisms (aka mould) are likely to be present on much of the stored feed as well this winter. Rolling feed out without chopping and mixing it together allows the cows to select the parts of the bale that are not spoiled. Mold will also contribute to lower intakes, meaning that producers should monitor their cows for loss of body fat closely.

Many of the above conditions also tax the ability of the immune system. It is important to provide appropriate vitamin and mineral supplementation to maintain immune system function. 

For additional information regarding feed testing, toxin testing, or ration formulation contact a Regional Livestock Specialist or call the Agriculture Knowledge Centre at 1-866-457-2377.


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