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OSU Extension

College of Food, Agricultural, and Environmental Sciences

January 24, 2024 - 9:00am --

I saw a quote on the internet the other day that said something to the effect of “I don’t want anything to do with temperatures less than my age”.  As I have aged my low temperature tolerance has dramatically decreased and the idea of becoming a “snowbird” is getting better by the day.  But as livestock producers, we may be welcoming the cold temperatures as they may be giving us a reprieve from dealing with mud.  This time of year, we know that at some point we will be dealing with cold temps, or mud, or both.  Either scenario can create some management problems for us to tackle.  Our ruminant livestock can handle considerably lower temperatures than us.  Most of that is due to the fact they have a built-in furnace, their rumen, to help maintain core body temperature.  When the correct combination of challenges presents themselves, livestock performance can be negatively impacted.

Most of the information available is for cattle, but we can use the same thought processes when assisting our small ruminants deal with environmental challenges.  Until it gets really cold, like it has this last week, it is easy to assume that our livestock are fine.  However, the low critical temperature (LCT) for cattle can be as high as 59 degrees if they have their summer haircoat and are wet.  In an article published by Penn State Extension last year (, the LCT is described as “the temperature at which maintenance requirements increase to the point where animal performance is negatively affected”.  In most cases they point out that the normal LCT for beef cattle is between 18 and 20 degrees for those with a heavy winter coat, or 32 degrees for a normal winter coat.  They point out that for every degree below the LCT, an average cow’s Total Digestible Nutrient (TDN) requirement increase by 1 percent.

No muddying up the feeding facts

Mud will also create challenges from a temperature tolerance and performance perspective.  Mud, similar to rain, reduces the insulative properties of their haircoat.  Also, the depth of the mud in the field causes animals to exert more energy just moving around.  The University of Kentucky AEN-115 Extension publication cite that mud to a depth of 4 to 8 inches can increase a cow’s feed requirement by 12 to 13 percent while decreasing their feed intake by 8 to 15 percent.  12 to 24 inches of mud can subsequently increase their feed requirement by 20 to 25 percent, and decrease their feed intake by 30 percent.

So, what can we do?  First, is make sure that you are supplying enough high quality feed.  Your average beef cow, in her last third of gestation will eat about 2.5 percent of her body weight in dry matter each day and need about 14 pounds of TDN.  Cold temperatures alone can push a cow to increase her feed intake to 3.5 percent of her body weight and as temperatures fall that feed will need to contain more energy.  When dealing with mud, the decreased feed intake needs to be offset with a more energy dense ration.

Provide plenty of water and windbreaks

Along with feed, we can’t forget about water.  Although it isn’t officially listed as one, water is the most important nutrient we can provide.  Livestock need continuous access to fresh, clean, water to maintain their metabolic functions.  Waterers should be inspected a couple times each day, depending on the temperature, to make sure they aren’t frozen over.  You should also clean your waterers periodically to removed foreign material.

Finally, you need to provide your animals some form of reprieve from the elements however possible.  This can be done with windbreaks created from topography, trees and woody vegetation, or man-made structures.  You can also spread some poor-quality hay or straw for your animals to utilize as bedding.  Pastures can easily be mudded up, so rotating placement of feeders and utilizing high ground can help.  I have always been a fan of heavy-use pad for feeding livestock on pasture.  If you don’t have any, I would explore their construction and use.  A heavy-use pad helps create feeding and bedding sites that are easier to maintain, especially when you’re limited in areas you can rotate.

Next week is our first Private Pesticide Recertification opportunity.  It will be conducted in conjunction with the AgPro Expo at Harvest Ridge Fairgrounds in Millersburg on January 25th.  Our first Wayne County session will be at Drake Park, in West Salem on February 9th.  This is also the final week for registrations for the 2024 Professional Marketer Program.  The cost of the program is $150 and provides you with a binder of all the course materials and lunch and break refreshments each day.  You can register at or you can call the Wayne County Extension office at 330-264-8722 to register for either of our programs.

  Other OSU Extension programs that may be of interest are:

  • Farm Accounting with Quicken at the Knox County Extension office on February 26th and 27th.  You can find more information and register at
  • The OSU Digital Ag team will be hosting a free, weekly, one-hour, on-line webinar on various precision livestock farming topics beginning January 31st.  Registration can be found at
  • OSU Extension and the OSU College of Vet Medicine will host the Ohio Beef Cattle Herd Health Seminar at Caldwell Research Station on January 26th.  The cost is $10 and you can contact Garth Ruff at 740-305-3201 to register.
  • The 2024 Ohio Beef Cattle Feeding School will be conducted at two locations this year.  It will be in Crawford County on January 23rd and Wood County on January 30th.  The program is free and you can call 419-562-8731 (Crawford) or 419-819-3084 (Wood) for more information and to register.

John Yost is an Extension Educator IV, Agriculture and Natural Resources, at OSU Extension Wayne County.
This article was previously published in The Daily Record.