BEEF Daily

Are You Increasing Your Cows’ Feed Intake In Cold Weather?


As winter weather hits, it’s important to increase feed intake to meet a cow’s energy requirements. 

As I write this, it’s a whiteout outside my house. Blustery 30-mph winds and blowing snow have created ground-blizzard conditions. Our cattle spent the morning grazing cornstalks, but now are tucked tightly behind a windbreak waiting for the storm to pass. Availability of such shelter is extremely important, but when adverse weather conditions hit, it’s also important to increase the feed intake in your cattle.

According to J.J. Barrett, a West Virginia University Extension agricultural agent, cold weather can increase livestock’s feed intake up to 30% due to the increased maintenance energy requirements.

"Livestock will need more feed to combat cold stress during this harsh weather. Access to water, shelter from the wind and extra bedding will help until a warm-up occurs. As a general rule, healthy animals in good body condition that are acclimated to cold weather and have a good winter hair coat will do fine until the ambient temperature drops below 20°F. Below that, animals must compensate for heat loss by increasing their energy intake, to increase heat production and maintain their body temperature,” Barrett said in a recent interview with


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When the temperature drops, and its snowy and blowing, it’s important to consider the cow’s body condition score and the quality of the feed being offered. Depending on the weather’s severity, a decision to increase the feed intake for the cow’s energy requirements may be called for.

According to University of Nebraska-Lincoln Extension, “If the total digestible nutrients (TDN) requirements of the cows are 12 lbs. of TDN/head/day for this week, you would consider bumping the ration to 15.5 lbs./head/day. This is an increase of 3.5 lbs. of TDN/head/day. If grass hay is 57% TDN, that’s an increase of about 6 lbs./head/day on a dry matter (DM) basis. If the hay is 88% DM, that would mean each cow receives an additional 7 lbs./head/day. If these cows were being fed 24 lbs./head/day under current conditions, could they eat 31 lbs./head/day during the harsh weather condition? For a 1,200-lb. cow, this calculates to about 2.3% of her body weight on a DM basis.”

Do you increase feed intake when the weather gets bad? How is the weather in your neck of the woods? Leave your thoughts in the comments section below.


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Discuss this Blog Entry 3

on Jan 27, 2014

Rather makes me glad I ranch in the South! Useful information when it does get cold. My Brahmans shiver just a little when it get around 40.

on Jan 28, 2014

Increasing feed intake is important especially in Minnesota where we've had multiple days where is hasn't even gotten above zero. Having shelter and increasing feed and extra bedding is a crucial part of making it through the harsh winter.

Dr. Gockowski (not verified)
on Jan 29, 2014

Ramping up nutrition which includes a high quality mineral/vitamin program before the cold so cattle go into winter looking great is money in the bank. Cattle should never be thin! When cold weather - wind/snow/sleet/sub-zero temps arrive increasing quantity of high quality hay is the key to maintaining that condition along with windbreaks and plenty of GOOD FREE CHOICE WATER. BCS needs to be done weekly and it often requires getting an ungloved hand on the cattle. Cheers to the cattle owners who see the value in preventing problems through high quality nutrition and health care. You are my heroes!!

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BEEF Daily Blog is produced by rancher Amanda Radke, one of the U.S. beef industry’s top social media “agvocates.”


Amanda Radke

Amanda Radke is a fifth generation rancher from Mitchell, S.D., who has dedicated her career to serving as a voice for the nation’s beef producers. A 2009 graduate of South Dakota State...

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