Agriculture News: Take care of yourself and your livestock this winter

By Keenan Bishop, Published:

It’s nice to not have to deal with the mud of barn lots and fields but prolonged temperatures well below freezing bring on many other issues we normally don’t have to deal with.

This past week was a wakeup call that winter is in fact here. Like the flight attendant on the plane preparing you for your flight who tells you to place the oxygen mask on yourself and then your children, the farmer must prepare himself before taking care of his or her stock.

Dress in layers like your mom said, be aware of carbon monoxide fumes and don’t over exert yourself. Working outside with numb fingers and toes is one thing – a heart attack or carbon monoxide poisoning is an entirely different issue. Another issue is footing. A little ice or frozen clods can twist an ankle or worse.

With the benefit of city water service and the many cost share opportunities, many farms now have automatic waterers. Unless they are heated, they still need attention during prolonged periods of cold weather. Most well insulated waters will not freeze up IF you have the proper number of animals per unit. They’ll visit often enough to keep the ball or flap from freezing hard. If, however, the field or pen is “understocked” and the waterer is used only a couple times a day then the ball or flap can freeze hard. Check these regularly and break them loose if necessary.


Typically, a horse should have a minimum of one gallon of water per 100 pounds body weight available to them every day. So an 800-pound horse needs at least eight gallons of water a day.

A beef cow will need about one-half gallon for every pound of dry matter intake but like the horse, this fluctuates with temperature. So a 1,100-pound dry cow eating 20 pounds of dry matter needs about 10 gallons of water on average. This same animal will need 18 gallons when it’s 90 degrees but only about eight gallons when it’s 40 degrees.

One that is lactating obviously needs more. Bottom line is you must keep the waterer thawed or the pond ice chopped enough to provide the many gallons necessary on a daily basis. When a ruminant is out of water they quit eating; once empty the ruminant shuts down.

After water is restored and they start eating again it takes a while for the environment in the rumen to be restored enough to process food again. All this means that you have not only an unhappy animal but one that loses weight and condition for several days if not more. This can be dire when temperatures are below freezing and the animal needs food to create heat.


After water we must think of food. Typical Kentucky hay is usually not sufficient to maintain livestock over a normal winter. It gets them by but they will lose a body condition score or two by spring. As the temperatures decrease, the animal’s requirements for maintaining energy increase.

We know temperatures in the 30s and rain are about the worst conditions for animals as they can tolerate freezing weather better than cool, wet weather and mud. But once you factor in wind and single digits things begin to change. So, too, must their diet.

Energy is the major nutrient requirement for livestock. It is commonly expressed as TDN (total digestible nutrients), NE (net energy), or ME (metabolizable energy). Both carbohydrates and fats are in the energy group.

Think of energy as the fuel a cow uses for grazing, producing milk, growing, reproducing, digesting, voiding body wastes and in this case – maintaining temperature. Most of this fuel comes from forages and roughage products. To supplement during bad weather we can use high energy feeds such as corn. Soyhulls and corn gluten are also good affordable sources.

If you choose corn remember to limit it to a maximum of a half a percent of body weight to maintain rumen health. This “extra” feed is precisely why the cost of winter feeding the cow herd makes up 40 to 50 percent of the total variable costs of producing a weaned calf.


According to Dr. Roy Burris, UK Beef Specialist, “The biggest thing for producers to do is to make sure animals have good hay and feed and that they have a good wind break,” he said. “It doesn’t have to mean putting animals up in the barn; you could simply give them access to lower pastures that get them out of the wind.”

Burris said keeping cattle dry, fed and comfortable goes a long way in protecting them from cold spells like this. “Most producers have weaned their calves and most fall calves have been born by now,” he said. “So really you just need to keep their bellies full and keep them out of the wind.”

Remember that keeping them dry and out of the wind does not mean an enclosed barn. A wind break is a much better option. An enclosed barn can trap moist humid air and set up conditions for pneumonia and other illnesses.

One last point is to watch for limping animals. Cloven hooves trying to traverse the uneven churned up frozen ground often leads to injuries between the “toes.”

For more tips and advice stop by the office at 101 Lakeview Ct. for your 2013 BEEF IRM Calendar.


If you’re growing burley this year you should know by now that the tobacco companies are requiring all growers to be GAP Certified. This shows you are raising your crop using Good Agricultural Practices. Most of you are already doing 90 percent of what’s required, otherwise you wouldn’t be in business.

To get your GAP Certification and an update on policy, new varieties, black shank and labor issues plan on attending the Central Kentucky Tobacco Growers Update Thursday at the Woodford County Extension Office.

Call the office, 695-9035, by Tuesday for the start time and so we can get a head count since we will be providing supper.

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