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Look for snow on cattle’s backs

At Farm Animal Councils across Canada, we frequently get calls from people driving by farm properties asking questions about the farm animals they see living in the fields. One common theme of questions we receive this time of the year is about animal housing in the winter - specifically, can cattle live outdoors in the winter. This article does a great job of answering that question - OFAC

Chatham Daily News, Friday, January 15

Look for snow on cattle’s backs
Posted 8 hours ago
As the winter season is here in Chatham-Kent, let’s look at cattle being left outside during these cold months. For this article, the words cattle, cows, herd, and livestock all mean the same thing. I would like to thank Mike and Joanne Buis of Buis Beef here in Chatham-Kent for their assistance in writing this article.

Like all mammals, cows are warm-blooded and need to maintain a constant core body temperature. Special management and planning is required for cattle to graze outdoors in the winter. For this to be successful, producers select the proper breed of cattle and create the proper conditions for the winter season.

Body conditioning and hair coat are very important. Cattle need to carry a little extra fat for insulation. To accomplish this, producers provide extra feed to help them gain weight. Prior to winter, they also allow the cattle to be in open-air barns or to run outside, which helps them grow a thick coat before the cold weather sets in. The true test on a snowy day is to see snow staying on the backs of the cattle, which means they are not losing a lot of body heat.

Grazing fields should contain enough nutritious feed to maintain the herd. Corn stalks provide enough energy for cows over the winter. Wheat, oats, and barley still provide food value even after they are frozen and covered with snow. Supplemental minerals and vitamins are supplied to the cattle on a free-choice basis. Our producers monitor their cattle very closely and as grazing feed supplies dwindle or when it becomes extremely cold, extra grain or feed is supplied as necessary.

Accumulated snow provides another source of much needed water during the winter. Cattle will eat snow rather than return to the barn for water.

Wind can cause discomfort to cattle outside and wind-chill can be serious. Cattle have access to natural windbreaks (trees or brush) and man-made structures (buildings, board fences, straw bales). Instinctively, they will graze or stand with their backs to the wind and when it gets too windy, they will move to areas of shelter.

Farmers can’t control the weather but they do everything reasonably possible to reduce the effects of cold weather on their livestock. These measures help reduce costs and improve production efficiency.

Cattle able to spend the winter outdoors are healthy, well exercised, and in excellent shape for when they have calves in the spring. They actually look forward to the winter day the gate is opened and they go across the fields looking for the grain left behind by the harvesting equipment. Just as snowmobilers, ice fishermen, and skiers enjoy the outdoors in winter -so do the cows!

So if you see cattle outside during a cold day in January or February, there is no need to worry about them or call the humane society. Our Chatham-Kent cattle producers do care for their animals -summer and winter.

Think about this -Can you imagine what air would cost if God did not provide it? Just some food for thought.
Kim Cooper has been working in the agribusiness sector for over 35 years. He can be reached at kim.

Posted by OFAC on January 18th, 2010 :: Filed under Animal care, Beef cattle, Canada
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