Winter feed supplies


Source: Government of Saskatchewan


Perennial forages require plentiful moisture by early May to yield well later in the year. Don’t wait for the first hay growth to develop into a good crop after a dry spring.

Perennial forages should be cut by the early blossom stages for legumes or the early heading stages for grass, regardless of whether there is sufficient yield for hay. That way, if timely rains appear in late June or early July, a good second cut can be ob­tained. If not cut, first growth will simply mature, with little second growth.

Sloughs and roadsides can be cut for hay. Weedy crop areas such as wild oat patches are also good feed, and will reduce weed infestation next year.


Oats planted after a late rain can still be cut for greenfeed. The same applies to cereals used for grazing and allowed to re-grow. Sometimes, these fields can provide winter feed if there are later rains. Test for nitrates if there is an early frost.

Oats should be cut in the milk stage for best quality. Feed value drops off rapidly as they mature. Barley and wheat can be cut for greenfeed in the soft dough stage.

Livestock producers should also try to save as much crop residue as possible during grain harvest to replace any hay which may have been grazed as emergency pasture.


Chaff can be collected as feed, with the added advantage of not removing all the plant material from an area, thus leaving the straw to help protect the soil from erosion. Chaff collection systems are becoming more effective and readily available. Chaff can make up a sizable portion of the ration for wintering beef cattle or sheep. Chaff fits well into several self-feeding systems, such as electrified wire or limit feeding.

Chaff yield is inconsistent. Wheat crops produce more chaff than barley or oats. Short crops and dry conditions also produce more chaff, as shorter material falls through the straw walkers. The type of combine and the combine setting will also affect chaff yield.

Some animals, especially the younger ones, may find chaff from some of the very rough-awned bearded wheat varieties unpalatable. The better the body condition cattle are in at the beginning of winter, the more they will tolerate colder conditions during the winter months.

Winter Feeding Strategy

During feed shortages, producers may be faced with feeding less feed or feed of a poorer quality. However, the cattle still need adequate amounts of:

  • energy;
  • protein;
  • minerals;
  • vitamins; and
  • roughage.

It is important to plan ahead for available feed supplies for winter feeding. Consider quality as well as quantity. If there isn’t sufficient feed for the numbers of animals being over-wintered, then a decision has to be made whether to buy feed or reduce the number of animals.


Prioritize herd reduction. Top priority should be the pregnant brood cows. If they can get through the winter with enough body condition after calving to rebreed on schedule, the breeding program will not be affected.

Conduct a pregnancy check on the herd in the fall. Cull all open cows, cows with bad feet, bad udders and eye problems and cows with bad dispositions. Poor mothers should be culled. Good records will help with the decision-making process.

If there is extra feed after the main herd’s needs are met, keep the best replacement heifers. Keep the bred heifers and, if there’s enough feed, keep heifer calves from the best cows.


How well cattle tolerate the winter depends on their body condition at winter’s onset. Thin cattle do not have fat reserves and require more feed than cows in good body condition to tolerate the cold winter months. They are also more likely to have low vitamin and mineral reserves. Watch them closely for deficiencies, particularly in vitamin A. Separate young and thin cows from the rest of the herd, and feed them extra forage or grain.

Mature cows that finish the grazing season in better-than-average condition can withstand having their feed cut back somewhat. Roughage can be reduced from 10 to 20 pounds (4.5 to 9 kg) to a minimum of four to five pounds (1.75 to 2.25 kg) daily, along with adequate grain. Any greater reduction in forage will interfere with normal rumen function. During the winter feeding period, these cows can lose up to 120 pounds (55 kg). After calving, give them extra feed so they nurse properly and return to breeding condition quickly. Greater weight losses may jeopardize their health or cause breeding problems.

If feed needs to be purchased, decide whether hay is needed or if existing roughage can be extended with a grain or protein supplement. Poor-quality roughages, if properly supplemented to meet the animals’ requirements, can replace quality hay in maintaining the pregnant beef cow.

Thin cattle require more feed to keep warm. A thin cow requires 50 to 70 per cent more feed during a cold snap compared to a cow with some fat cover. This is why it pays to have cows come into winter in good condition.

Quality of feed

Don’t waste feed. Feeding on the ground can waste up to 50 per cent of poor-quality feed. If feeding using an electric wire system, keep it properly adjusted. Moving it a little several times daily is better than once daily and having the animals reach too much feed.

Retain the best quality feed for young stock and nursing cows after calving, as both milk production and growth demand extra nutrients. Nursing cows should be given sufficient feed to provide twice their pre-calving energy and protein needs.

Save your best roughage for replacement calves, bred heifers and cows after calving. Both milk production and growth demand extra nutrients.

Ammoniating chaff and straw increases its energy and crude protein content. If allowed free access to treated straw or chaff, cows will eat more than they would un-treated chaff. Intake increases from about 14 to 16 pounds of untreated chaff to 18 to 22 pounds of treated chaff, and grain requirements fall from five to six pounds per day to about two pounds.

Conversely, if grain is fed at five to six pounds per head, intake of ammoniated material can be restricted and still maintain the animal in good condition.

Healthy cattle use feed more efficiently. Treat for warbles and lice in the fall. Treat again for lice in mid-winter. Make sure to provide adequate vitamin A, D, and E supplementation, either through the feeding program or intra-muscular injections every 60 days. Balance rations with enough calcium, phosphorus and trace minerals, either mixed with the feed or fed free-choice.

Know the feed quality and the animal’s requirements. Have feeds analyzed by a feed testing laboratory. Discuss the results with a livestock nutritionist or feed company nutritionist.

Give all cattle extra feed in cold weather. A good rule of thumb is to increase grain by 2.2 pounds (1 kg) for every 10° C drop in temperature below -10°C to a maximum of five pounds (2.3 kg). If the temperature drops from -10° to -35°C overnight, the cattle need an extra five pounds (2.3 kg) of grain to help maintain body temperature.


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