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Released: October 25, 2001

K-State Animal Scientists Suggest Practices for ’Winterizing’ Cattle

MANHATTAN, Kan. – As winter rolls into the Great Plains, many Kansas livestock producers may not have a positive outlook on the next few months, said Kansas State University beef specialists.

"Getting ready for winter in some areas of the state may find some producers behind the gun in terms of having adequate feed stored for their herd," said Dale Blasi, a beef and nutrition specialist with K-State Research and Extension. "Many areas in southern Kansas have seen little rain since June, making the pastures as bare as a parking lot. It is not very promising."

Blasi recommends some basic management practices to help producers prepare their operations for potentially hostile winter months.

Herd Management

Blasi said the first step involves evaluating the body condition of cattle as they begin to adapt to winter weather. Body condition focuses on the animal’s degree of fat content, which correlates to reproduction ability, he said.

"Separating cows into management groups will increase the efficiency of a winter feeding program," said Twig Marston, a K-State Research and Extension beef specialist. "Young and thin cows can be given higher quality feeds to get them in shape for the upcoming calving and breeding seasons, while the moderate and heavy conditioned cows can be fed low-quality forages. By splitting the herd, the feed resources are utilized more efficiently and the winter feed bills are reduced."

Segmenting the herd based on conditional data can allow for targeted feed programs to be delivered, Blasi said.

"According to age or condition, separating the herd into different feed groups can help in making some tough decisions in hard feed years," he said. "It may become necessary to do some culling or peel some off the weak end."

Pregnancy checking can determine which cattle need to be culled before expensive winter feed is used, Marston said

"It is an important year to complete pregnancy examinations to find the percentage of open cattle," he said. "With shortages of feed, culling the open cows can cut winter feed needs by 5 to 15 percent."

If spring calves have not been weaned, now is the time to vaccinate for bovine respiratory disease. Preconditioning should start three weeks prior to weaning, Marston said.

"With proper vaccination and animal management, immune systems can be built stronger," Marston said. "All calves should be weighed at weaning so that low performing cows can also be identified for culling."

Feed Management

Blasi said producers should take stock of feed resources available so they know the amount of feed on hand. Coupled with an assessment of quality, producers can learn how much feed will be needed to last until pasture season next spring.

"A forage test can be submitted to determine quality," he said. "The analysis can be taken to local Extension offices to assist in getting an idea of how all of this can be put together."

Once these figures are calculated, producers still may fall short of feed requirements needed to sustain their herd.

"They will have to start shopping around," Blasi said. "There are a lot of by-products and additional feed sources to meet their needs. Finding the right one for the right price is the management task."

Crop residue can be effectively grazed after frost, since it is one of the cheapest forages available, Marston said. Feeding grain in place of forage, however, is not an easy alternative, Blasi said.

"There is a whole new realm of feeding grain that takes a lot of additional management," he said. "Cattle still need at least 6-8 pounds of roughage a day to maintain healthy rumen function."

Weather Effects

The wildcard effect of weather cannot accurately predict the scenario of the upcoming winter, showing the importance of efficient management.

"Keep changing weather conditions in mind and try to work with the weather," Marston said "It is important to provide shelter, like windbreaks, on those cold, windy days."

Blasi said producers have to prepare for the worst.

"We have to appreciate what weather will do to cattle," Blasi said. "Cold and wet weather can take a lot of condition out of them and producers must account for this energy loss or risk sub-par reproductive performance next year."


K-State Research and Extension is a short name for the Kansas State University Agricultural Experiment Station and Cooperative Extension Service, a program designed to generate and distribute useful knowledge for the well-being of Kansans. Supported by county, state, federal and private funds, the program has county Extension offices, experiment fields, area Extension offices and regional research centers statewide. Its headquarters is on the K-State campus, Manhattan.

Story by:
Lucas Shivers, Communications Assistant, Communications Assistant
K-State Research& Extension News

Additional Information:
Dale Blasi is at 785-532-5427; Twig Marston is at 785-532-5428