It would be only fair to admit that there were no plans to write about preparing for winter weather until the October blizzard that hit South Dakota and surrounding areas. In some cases, cattle and horses died in corrals with hay and good windbreaks, which reminds us that Mother Nature can be very harsh even when we think we are prepared. Nevertheless, good planning and preparation can make a difference in how difficult it is to deal with winter weather challenges. The following is a list of items to review prior to this winter.
• Body condition – Animals in good body condition are better able to deal with weather stress than thin animals. It is much easier and less expensive to increase body condition when requirements are low and temperatures are moderate.
• Evaluate feed inventory and analyze for nutrient quality. Use this information to balance rations and match nutrient quality with nutrient demand. Doing so will avoid a common problem of overfeeding cows in late gestation and underfeeding during early lactation.
• Hay reserves – Many had no harvested forage carrying over and so winter stores need to be rebuilt for “normal” winter feeding as well as “emergency” feeding. How close is the feed supply to the wintering pastures relative to the risk of a snow/weather event preventing feed delivery to the cattle? What risk does your winter feed delivery system have in the face of heavy snow and drifts or unusually wet weather?
Cold weather increases the cow’s energy needs. Make plans for how you would adapt the diet during an extended period of sharply colder weather.
• Feeding equipment – Service and repair to have in good working condition.
• Vaccination – A cow with good immunity produces colostrum with the antibodies needed for passive immunity of the calf. Subclinical deficiencies in trace minerals can result in poor immune response. Deworm so that parasites do not suppress immunity.
• Livestock insurance – Does your current policy cover the value of your cattle in today’s market?
What type of losses does it cover? What risk are you willing to take and what amount of loss can you risk taking on your own?
• Windbreaks – Drought has been hard on many living wind breaks. Make plans to add, replace or enhance windbreaks. Maintain or repair structural windbreaks as needed. Consider some type of portable windbreak for use on crop residue fields.
• Bedding – Any number of things such as straw, corn stalks or CRP hay can work. Wet hair coats and muddy conditions dramatically increase maintenance requirements. A clean, dry place to rest helps reduce stress.
• Generator – Test generator and connections to run essential electrical items. Assess fuel storage and supply.
• Waterers – Are water heaters functioning and spare parts on hand?
While we cannot plan for every eventuality, preparing for normal winter conditions just makes good sense. Or as Winston Churchill said “He who fails to plan is planning to fail.”
Nelson is Oklahoma Cooperative Extension Service ag educator for Garfield County.