As the temperature drops outside, so could a cow's health. While cattle producers may not be able to eliminate all of the stress that winter places on their herds, research shows that there is a significant correlation between feed efficiency and feeding-site selection, says Joel DeRouchey, livestock specialist at Kansas State University.
The thermo neutral zone for healthy cattle is 23 to 77 degrees F, DeRouchey says. When the temperature outside falls below or rises above the animal's comfort zone, the body needs to produce more energy to keep the animal cool or warm.
When this happens, cattle need to receive enough nutrition to help keep them healthy and in good condition. It is also important that feeding sites be placed in well-drained areas to reduce water, mud and manure buildup.
A buildup of water could not only waste portions of hay bales, but could also decrease the nutritional value of the hay, creating a need for alternative nutrient sources to maintain herd health and performance, DeRouchey says. Excessive mud and manure around feeding sites also means that cattle will have to exert more energy to reach their feed.
"Well-drained areas make the best feeding sites because mud accumulation is less likely to occur," DeRouchey says. "But, producers need to make sure that waste runoff will have grass or some type of vegetation to filter through before reaching open surface water."
To prevent waste buildup, producers should rotate ring feeders before adding new bales of hay. One feeding site can feed approximately 15 to 20 head of cattle depending on the availability of other feed sources.
"Ideally, it is better to roll hay out on the ground in a well-drained area if producers can do it in proportions that their herd can clean up in one day," DeRouchey says. "Hay that lies on the ground for several days before cattle can clean it up will be wasted."
Winter storage areas for hay are also something that producers need to be thinking about. Rows should line up north to south, about two to three feet apart, so that sunlight will reach a greater surface area, he says. This will help evaporate moisture from the bales and the ground around them more quickly. Tightly wrapped hay bales will also absorb less moisture than loosely wrapped bales, ultimately ruining a smaller amount of hay.
"Producers should also have their hay tested for nutrient content," he says. "If the hay doesn't have an adequate amount of nutrients, cattle will need to be fed additional alternative feedstuffs or higher quality hay to maintain performance. The materials needed to test hay are available for producers to use at their local Extension offices."