Welcome to January 2014! I was traveling last week in a part of the U.S. that was affected by winter weather. While I don’t want to downplay the added stress severe cold can cause, I was somewhat amused by the media’s coverage of what most of us in the Ag world understand as simply “Winter,” and not necessarily “Polar Vortex.”
The topic of feeding CRYSTALYX® in cold weather can be fairly broad; ranging from overall nutritional needs in cold weather to management, etc... Energy requirements can increase dramatically due to cold weather and cold air isn’t the only thing that can cause cold stress. The timing of the onset of cold, damp or muddy conditions, body condition of the cow and the hair coat of the animal all factor into cold stress.
Cold stress can be calculated by determining the Lower Critical Temperature for a cow and then subtracting the wind chill index. Lower Critical temperature is the point below an animal’s thermo neutral zone where it begins to experience cold stress and metabolic rates increase to supply more body heat. Each degree in magnitude of cold stress is equal to one percentage increase in energy required. During periods of extreme cold weather or in damp cold conditions, a beef cow’s energy requirements can easily increase 20-30% or more. Below are a couple links to some websites with very good information regarding management of beef cows in cold weather and further descriptions/calculations of cold stress.
Cows can compensate for cold a variety of ways by simply consuming more feed (if available), seeking shelter from wind, or be less susceptible to cold stress by being in adequate body condition. As producers, we can’t control the weather but we can prepare and combat it by having cows in adequate condition in the first place, provide adequate shelter, increasing the energy density of the diet, provide proper bedding, etc...
A question I receive fairly regular is that of the energy content of CRYSTALYX®. CRYSTALYX® normally gets associated with protein supplementation and that is very true. It does however contain a relatively high level of energy as a supplement (70% and up in TDN depending on the product formula) but I would not consider it an energy supplement on its own. What CRYSTALYX® really does regarding the energy status in a cow goes back to the protein supplementation factor. By supplementing some protein and increasing forage digestibility, the cow actually consumes more dry matter; especially true when feeding low quality forages. This increase in feed intake results in the consumption of more energy. Nutritionist’s call this “positive associative affects,” cows call it simply maintaining or increasing body condition. So given this, CRYSTALYX® can work very well in cold weather by complementing the forage programs and playing a part in increased energy consumption. There are also some products that we offer that are higher in energy due to a higher fat content such as CRYSTALYX®, Omega-lyx® which contains 12% fat.
Management of CRYSTALYX® in cold weather.
A great deal of CRYSTALYX® is fed in cold weather in the U.S. and Canada where cold stress is common. A few simple common sense guidelines are recommended and some are the same as feeding in normal conditions. I’ve listed a few below.
- Check the animal: barrel ratio when feeding. Most CRYSTALYX® products are labeled to be fed at the rate of one barrel for every 20-30 head.
- In extreme cold weather, place barrels in areas where cattle will have access such as in loafing and feeding areas.
- I once had a call from a customer that said cattle would not consume CRYSTALYX®NP-27 and upon further investigation we learned that the decrease in consumption occurred during an extreme cold and snow event. The ranch had begun feeding hay near sheltered areas on the opposite end of the pasture from where the barrels were placed. Moving the barrels closer to the feeding ground fixed the problem.
- Do not place barrels in areas that would be exposed to the wind. This would force an animal to expose itself to wind chill. CRYSTALYX® is palatable but if the wind-chill index is -30o F, a cow probably won’t climb the top of a hill to consume it if it’s exposed.
- A research project conducted in conjunction with Montana State Univ. in 1998 found that cows would decrease consumption of CRYSTALYX® when they are exposed to very low wind-chill temperatures. The same study also found that cattle do however return to the barrels and resume normal consumption patterns when the wind-chill temperatures moderated, by placing the barrels in more protected areas.
The take home message is that extreme cold weather does increase the energy requirements of beef cattle, but with good management and previous preparation of the cattle, supplements like CRYSTALYX® can play a key part of energy needs. Don’t let winter get you down; there are only about 2 ½ months until spring. Happy New Year!