What to Feed in the Winter

Staying warm in the cold, requires more energy from the animal. Supplementing your nutrition ration for energy lost due to the cold weather can be effective for your animals. Here are some ways that you can get more rate of gain from your animals.

Formulating Beef Rations

It is important to make sure you have an adequate amount of forages to feed your cattle. Better quality hay has more nutrients so it will allow for less hay to be fed. According to Glenn Selk, Oklahoma State University Emeritus Extension animal scientist, “Consequently, forage intake increases. For example, low-quality forages (below about 6% crude protein) will be consumed at about 1.5% of body weight (on a dry matter basis) per day. Higher-quality grass hays (above 8% crude protein) may be consumed at about 2.0% of body weight. Excellent forages, such as good alfalfa, silages, or green pasture may be consumed at the rate of 2.5% dry matter of body weight per day. The combination of increased nutrient content AND increased forage intake makes high quality forage very valuable to the animal and the producer. With these intake estimates, now producers can calculate the estimated amounts of hay that need to be available”. When calculating the amount of hay needed, it is also important to figure in hay wastage. According to Selk, approximately 15% will be wasted when fed in large round bales.


Formulating Dairy Rations

According to Stephanie Holly from Off the Press News, an estimate for the amount of feed a cow requires is 2 pounds of dry matter for every 100 pounds of body weight. Since cows may require up to 20 percent more feed during cold weather in order to maintain condition and ward off illness, the amount of feed you will need for your livestock may vary greatly. The amount of feed needed for your cows will also depend on the climate, the location of your farm, and the location of your animals. The more bedding and housing that your cows have access to, the less energy and feed you may need.

General Things to Remember when Calculating Winter Rations

Growing calves have some of the highest nutrient requirement of any animal on the farm, making sure that these animals have quality feed is a must. Good forage is a good base to make sure that these animals are nutritionally sound; some grain should be included in the ration to increase the energy concentration of the diet. A protein supplement may be necessary if inadequate protein is available in the ration. Vitamins and mineral supplements should also be included in the ration. It is recommended to mix these in the ration instead of giving the calves free choice of the supplements because free choice is the least effective of methods.

Cows in good body condition can be fed poorer quality hay or a straw-grain ration for most of the gestation period. This program could provide significant savings over the winter feeding period in order to provide more protein and fats as a form of energy.  Mixing straw with medium quality hay, grain and in some situations, a protein supplement to provide a balanced ration is possible. To stay healthy, a cow requires two main dietary components: roughage and protein. Both components can be met with a good quality grass during warm weather months, but high-producing dairy cows may require more protein, such as alfalfa, mixed grass-legume pasture, or a protein supplement. In addition to roughage and protein, cows will need salt and minerals, which can be easily supplied in a salt lick. During periods of growth or high stress, a small amount of grain can be fed for additional energy.

  • The first limiting nutrient in a ration is the one that determines overall growth or production of an animal. It is of little use to supply any additional nutrient to a ration until the deficiency in the first limiting nutrient is resolved. If the problem is not clear, get assistance to help solve the problem. In many cases, energy is the first limiting nutrient in a ration.

  • Roughage quality affects the needs for supplemental energy and protein. Immature forages typically contain more energy and protein than over-mature forage. Timing of cutting has a larger effect on forage quality than variety.

  • In cold weather, for every 5°C below -20°C, increase the grain by about 2.2 lb over and above the levels the animals normally receive.

  • Hay or silage in poor condition (moldy, heat damaged or rained damaged prior to harvest) reduces quality. Any form of spoilage reduces energy and protein content in the feed. If the forage has heated and smells like tobacco or is brown to dark brown, an Acid Detergent Insoluble Nitrogen (ADIN) test is required to determine the amount of protein that is tied to the fiber and is not available to the animal. In some situations, extra protein may be needed to meet animal requirements. If feeding damaged feeds, seek help to balance the rations.

  • Greenfeed and cereal silage are normally lower in protein than an alfalfa grass hay or silage. Most growing rations based on greenfeed or cereal silage require supplemental protein.

  • High quality legume forages, if consumed at adequate levels, can supply adequate energy and protein in a growing ration to achieve gains in excess of 1.1 lb per day, without supplemental grain.

  • Grass hay is usually lower in energy and protein than mixed legume grass hay. It is usually necessary to feed grain and a protein supplement with grass hay.

  • Grains high in protein (wheat, peas, lentils, chick peas) will reduce the need for a protein supplement. These high protein grains are also high energy feed and will be digested rapidly. There are limits to the amount that can be fed.

For more information on feeding in the winter, here are some more informational links. 

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