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Sound nutrition essential for cattle health in winter

The current winter season is still playing itself out for many more weeks. Who knows if it will be a long, bitter winter or an early spring?

Either way, cattle, just like people, need good nutrition throughout the wintertime.

Key Points

• The winter season can be especially challenging to cattle.

• Balanced nutrition is a big part of getting cattle through winter.

• Good grass, hay, minerals are essentials at Vinson Ranches.


Sid Saverance says sound nutrition for livestock is job one at Vinson Ranches of Ovalo, Texas.

This winter, Vinson Ranches is running a lot of yearling cattle on winter wheat pasture.

“We keep mineral out for the cattle from day one,” Saverance notes. “They may not consume more than 3 ounces of mineral per head, per day — but it is still needed and very important.”

Although Vinson Ranches may have hundreds of cattle grazing winter wheat pasture, they also will put out round bales of hay, in addition to the ever-present minerals.

“We feed hay free-choice — all they want,” Saverance says.

He’s convinced the availability of good hay helps prevent bloat. Sometimes the hay is bermudagrass; other times the ranch may bale haygrazer. They feed both.

Experts note that animals in hot weather will consume about 2 gallons of water daily per every 100 pounds of body weight.

Saverance says the livestock still need ample water in the wintertime, although they won’t seek nearly as much as they do in extreme heat.

“In the case of our stocker cattle, they also are getting a world of water from the wheat itself,” Saverance notes.

Adult cows on range

Unlike some operations, Vinson Ranches doesn’t like to run adult cows on winter wheat.

“Generally, we don’t run adult cows on winter wheat but put them on native pasture instead,” Saverance says. “We prefer to run only yearling cattle on winter wheat.”

But as with yearlings, the ranch does keep mineral and hay available for the adult cows on the native range at all times.

What’s more, Saverance says Vinson Ranches is a strong believer in liquid feedout on the rangeland for the adult females.

“We’re convinced from the great fertility we get with our cows,” Saverance says.

Indeed, experts agree an animal can’t express its genetic potential without sound nutrition.

Ron Scott, director of beef research for Purina Mills, says making the most of genetic potential requires great attention to livestock nutrition.

Scott says health and weather factors can relate to both performance and beef grade. An ideal balance of grains, vitamins and minerals optimizes beef quality and producer profitability.

Scott says feeding distillers byproducts can fit into the feeding strategy, with the most effective feeding levels generally being from 12% to 25% of the diet. He notes finishing diets mainly just fill in the marbling cells that already were determined earlier in life. Recent research has shown that nutritional marbling starts with fetal programming, especially in the third trimester.

Scott says beef cows, seemingly by design — and especially in the wintertime — are the most nutritionally challenged of livestock.

“We plan for them to lose weight during the winter,” Scott laments. “What if we cared for the cowherd like we do pregnant women?”

Winter wheat for grazing

Albany, Texas, rancher John Caldwell likes to sow about 1,000 acres of winter wheat for grazing that usually starts in November and continues until spring.

Caldwell says that in addition to wheat, Texas winter grass is just excellent in a lot of seasons.

Instead of introducing calves from outside the ranch, he believes keeping some of his own cattle helps keep his herd healthy.

“I don’t go buy cattle,” Caldwell notes. “I just hold some yearling cattle.”

Saverance also puts great emphasis on preventing sickness at Vinson Ranches and believes sound nutrition is a big part of that, especially when running stocker cattle in the winter.

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DON’T FORGET MINERALS: Cattle on winter wheat grazing need good minerals and hay readily available as part of a sound nutrition program.

This article published in the January, 2010 edition of THE FARMER-STOCKMAN.

All rights reserved. Copyright Farm Progress Cos. 2010.