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Winterizing the Cow Herd

Author: Kristy

Here are some considerations for getting your cows ready for winter.

By: Rachel Endecott, Beef Cattle Specialist, Montana State University Extension

Welcome to fall! I keep hearing reminders about winterizing things, from my lawn to my house. This
might be a good time for a brief checklist to consider when winterizing the cow herd after weaning:

  • Critically evaluate cow body condition. Are there thin cows who might benefit from being sorted off and run for a time with the young cows? The post‐weaning 2nd trimester time period is when nutrient requirements are lowest. Putting weight on thin cows is least expensive and most efficient at this time.
  • Speaking of body condition, you might take a look at your herd bulls. Mature bulls might be able to get by on an all‐forage diet, but young bulls should be around 75% of their mature body weight by the time they are 2. Winter pasture with appropriate shelter and/or bedding is critical for protecting important bull body parts!
  • Consider your fall grass situation. Will protein supplementation be necessary?
  • Fall is a great time for parasite control. Contact your veterinarian if you have questions about what products to use or changing up your protocols to reduce resistance.
  • Did you use fly tags this summer? Remove them at the same time as you pregnancy check and/ or administer parasite control products.
  • Evaluate your culling policy. Are you keeping cows that aren’t paying for themselves? Hopefully pregnancy status goes without saying, but open cows should head down the road. Soundness, age/teeth, udder structure, and calf quality are all important to consider as well.
  • If you raise your own replacement heifers,consider their development program. Are you satisfied with the approach you’ve been taking, or would you like different results from your heifer development program?
  • Test hay for nutrient analysis and build a winter feeding plan. Do you need to purchase supplement? Does your high‐protein second cutting need to be diluted with a lower quality hay to more optimally match cow requirements? Do you have enough hay? Does your grain hay have a cautionary level of nitrates? If so, do you have a feeding plan to avoid nitrate toxicity problems?
  • Are you happy with your mineral supplementation program? Adding a mineral panel to those hay tests might help to know more about mineral intake, and don’t forget the minerals in water.
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