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OSU Extension

College of Food, Agricultural, and Environmental Sciences

February 19, 2019 - 8:19am --

This has been a challenging winter for any type of livestock operation.  We have had snowfall, rain, and sleet, subzero temperatures with harsh wind-chill but also temperatures in the fifties!  Temperatures bouncing up and down can be hard on both livestock and their caregivers.   The cold rains and the muddy conditions during those periods of warmer temperatures are a concern for beef cattle primarily managed and housed outdoors. 

Rain and mud matt down the hair coat and it loses its insulating ability.  When that happens, the animal’s lower critical temperature increases.  The animal requires more energy to maintain basic body functions and to stay warm.  Mud is worse than rain alone.  In muddy conditions, livestock need more energy in their rations because not only does mud reduce the insulating ability of an animal’s hair coat, but walking in mud increases energy demand.   Research shows a double whammy with mud; although mud demands increased intake and energy, cattle in mud actually decrease their intake.  Cattle in 4 to 8 inches of mud decreased dry matter intake by 15% versus intake under the same conditions without any mud. When cattle need to deal with a foot or more of mud, dry matter intake can decrease by 30% compared to the same conditions without any mud. 

The mud and cold rains we have experienced have made this a tough winter for beef cattle in outdoor environments.  Managers need to be monitoring the body condition of their cattle to determine if they are gaining, maintaining or losing body condition.  This is especially critical for beef cows entering the last third of gestation.  Beef cows are most commonly body scored on a 1-9 scale and it is desirable to calf at a body condition score of 5 to 6.  A very good fact sheet with photos illustrating the various body condition scores and explaining how to body condition score cattle is available on line at

Recently one of my colleagues, Mark Landefeld, Extension Educator in Monroe County and also the owner of a small beef cow/calf operation wrote a good article about the need to monitor cow body condition using his own herd as an example.  Mark makes a point that there may be a need to provide some supplemental grain to maintain body condition and even though this has a cost, it is cheaper than the consequences of not supplementing.  Here are his words:

“I think the cows were their normal number 6+ in late November/early December, but the cold rains and mud they have dealt with the past two months is taking its toll. Even though my hay test numbers showed adequate nutrients for middle 1/3 and last 1/3 of pregnancy, the girls are not number 6’s & 7’s today.

I believe they are still body condition 5’s & some 6’s now, but we have the normally cold and muddy late February and March conditions coming yet. I don’t want them slipping to number 4’s before starting to supplement, because at that point I believe it may be too late to keep everyone on track to calve normally, provide high quality colostrum, milk routinely and rebreed in a timely manner. Therefore, I’m sure many of you are saying that feeding concentrate feeds are expensive. You don’t have to tell me that because I understand completely. My cows have not had grain since they were replacement heifers and I know what feed costs. I also know it is pretty easy to estimate what a missed heat cycle (maybe more than one) cost me once the bull is turned in (see the chart). What is much harder to calculate is the amount of loss from a distressed calf at calving, loss of pounds gained from poor quality colostrum and milk from momma because she did not have proper nutrition.

Note*- All prices were calculated using a standard price of $ 1.50/lb. Actual loss will be more if calves sell for more $ 1.50/lb.


So, what body condition are your cows in right now? When is your calving window to start and finish? What quality hay/feed have you been feeding? In addition, maybe more importantly, what quality is the hay you will be feeding 30-90 days after calving when the cow’s nutrient requirement will be at its peak demand? Think about this; one cow missing one-heat cycle, at the 2.5 lbs. rate of gain/day in the chart, would pay for about ten 50lbs. bags of concentrate feed. Consider all these things and use tools available like the Body Condition Scoring to keep your livestock on track, have strong healthy calves and be ready to rebreed in that 82-day window to be successful and calve on time next year. Do extra concentrate feeds seem more doable now?”


Rory Lewandowski is an OSU Extension Agriculture & Natural Resources Educator and may be reached at 330-264-8722.

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