Tips for successful winter feedlot management

March 2, 2013 by  
Filed under Wind Energy Tips

Winter feedlot management is critical in the Upper Midwest. This year in particular has been filled with extreme temperature and weather changes from day to day and week to week. Variable weather patterns can lead to extra challenges on the feedlot, but a little preparation can go a long way in ensuring good cattle health and well-being.

Manage feed bunks and intakes

In periods of cold, cattle utilize more energy in order to maintain adequate body temperature. They can meet this need for energy to a certain extent by eating more feed.

When cattle are exposed to cold conditions for an extended period of time their bodies can adjust to the cold temperature and they can utilize more energy for growth. However, the ever changing temperatures this winter will make it difficult for cattle to metabolically adjust; thus, their intakes may vary more.

A few steps can be taken to help cattle keep a steady intake, and to improve their feed efficiency in winter.

Checking feed bunks daily and adjusting feed delivery can reduce feed waste in times of variable feed intakes. If excess feed is left in the bunk and covered by fresh feed, the cattle will often not consume it. Moreover, in the winter, excess feed in the bunk will freeze, making it inaccessible to cattle.

Feed bunks can also accumulate snow and ice in winter months. Before daily feeding, make sure to remove excess snow or ice from the bunks. This will improve feed intakes as cattle will be better able to access feed.

Finally, work with your nutritionist to develop a storm rations. A storm ration is an alternative to the prescribed ration to be fed in preparation for weather events. Nutritionists formulate these to reduce intake variation and to ensure that daily intakes meet the energy needs of cattle for growth and body temperature maintenance.

Ensure cattle comfort

It is important to make sure cattle are warm and dry during winter. Bedding should be monitored and adjusted in order to meet cattle needs.

Weather forecasts should be monitored daily. When harsh weather is expected, prepare cattle for it in advance by providing extra bedding to keep them warm. Advanced preparation will help ensure that cattle are not impacted as heavily by weather conditions.

Periods of snow followed by warm and sunny days can also be a problem, as they can lead to wet bedding conditions. Cattle can pull water from melting snow into their bedding making it wet. Check bedding regularly to ensure that bedding is dry. Depending on lot design and conditions, wet bedding may need to be removed and replaced with dry bedding. On bed packs, dry bedding is simply added on top of the established pack.

A well bedded barn will also ensure cattle comfort which will improve intakes during the winter months. It will provide cattle with a place to rest, as well as a place to stay warm in cold conditions. When cattle are warmer, more feed energy can be utilized for cattle growth which means improved cattle efficiency.

Maintain good ventilation

Cattle do well in cold and dry conditions, but wet, windy, or humid conditions can take a toll on cattle health and efficiency. Humidity can build up in barns during the winter as cattle stay close together and under shelters to stay warm. Excessive humidity in the winter can lead to respiratory problems in cattle. You may notice an increase in cattle coughing when humidity is too high.

Humidity build up can be prevented by ensuring proper barn ventilation. This can be done by utilizing barns that are open on strategic sides to allow some winter wind to cross though the barn. Be careful not to allow excess wind to flow through the barn at cattle height or lower and chill cattle however.

Installing fans or other ventilation systems can help move air movement in barns that do not allow for enough natural air flow.


As with all times of the year, cattle need access to clean water. In winter months it is critical to check water stations daily to make sure they are not freezing and that all heating elements are working properly. As the weather warms above freezing, make sure to turn off heating elements for the season.

The above tips can be utilized to keep cattle healthy and growing efficiently in the winter months.

For more information regarding beef feedlot nutrition or any other beef-related topic, please visit the U of M Beef Team website at: For questions related specifically to this article, the author can be contacted at

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