Cows in winter require more maintenance

Alicia Boor, K-State Extension

In the midst of the holiday season and the increased access to sweets, many people may be observing a less than ideal change in their personal body conditions.  

While people may strive for a skinnier physique, holding a thin body condition over the winter may create deficits for cattle heading into calving season. 

“Thin cows have a higher maintenance requirement in the winter than cows in adequate condition because they have to work harder to stay warm,” 

To assess the herd, veterinarian Bob Larson suggests ranchers periodically check them and even take pictures of the herd to help monitor changes over time.  

“In any group, I expect some variation in the condition, but ideally I want almost all the cows to be in a moderate body condition,” Larson said. “And if they are, then I know that I am managing the group pretty well.”  

If cattle ranchers notice that there are thin cows in the herd, they may need to evaluate the situation further to see if there is a pattern tied to their age or access to feed.  

“The number of cows in the herd will creep up if, for example, they are getting pushed out of the feed bunk and not getting the protein supplementation they need,”.   

Experts agree that two feet of bunk space per head is a minimum amount of space needed.   

“If you only allocate a foot and a half on a single-sided feed bunk, the big cows will push out the thinner, smaller cows that really need the feed,” Weaber said. He prefers to place the feed bunk in the middle of the pasture so cattle can access the feed from both sides.

“Big cubes fed on the ground will allow the cattle to have easy access because you can spread it out, but there is more feed waste and sanitation issues that come with that strategy,” veterinarian Brad White said.   

White suggested producers look at ways to segregate the thin cows.  

“Grouping the thin cows together can be a powerful tool in giving them the extra feed they need ahead of calving season,”. The challenge, he added, may lie in where they are located and the ease of separating them for feeding.   

He added: “The cow’s maintenance cost is the lowest it is going to be right now and that makes it a good time to put some weight on her rather than waiting to do it later.”      

White gave an example: “If I have 100 days, I could target the cows to gain two pounds per day. That will give them about 200 pounds of gain.”   

The bottom line, White said, is to “do the math for your herd and then figure out if it is just a couple individuals that need to gain weight or the entire group, because that answer will drastically change the decision you make and what options are available.”  

Alicia Boor is an Agriculture and Natural Resources agent in the Cottonwood District for K-State Research and Extension. You can contact her by e-mail at aboor@ksu.edu or calling 620-793-1910.