Winter Feeding and Shelter Requirements for Cattle


Source: Manitoba Agriculture, Food and Rural Initiatives

Manitoba’s harsh winters can be very challenging for cattle.

The extremely cold weather coupled with the wind chill and other environmental stresses that prevail during the winter months require that adequate provision be made for the sheltering, feeding and watering of cattle to ensure their health and welfare.

Generally, beef cattle are more exposed to the challenges of the cold stress during winter, while milking dairy cows are typically housed indoors and provided with a high energy diet.

Winter Feeding

Overwintered cattle require more metabolizable energy for heat production during the winter in order to maintain their body temperature. Adult cattle will normally consume 2 to 4 per cent of their bodyweight daily depending on the quality of feed and stage of production. For example, a 1,200 lb. cow will consume anywhere from 24 to 48 lb. of feed daily. Feed consumption can increase by as much as 30 per cent in winter conditions and good quality hay should be provided free-choice. A good rule of thumb is to feed an additional 1 lb. of grain per head per day for every 10 degrees Celsius the temperature is below -20 degrees Celsius to help meet higher energy requirements.

Ensure that cattle enter the winter season well-conditioned with an average body condition score of 3 out of 5 on scale of 1 to 5 where 1 is emaciated and 5 is obese (See Body Condition Chart). Animals that are in good body condition are better able to withstand the stresses of extreme weather.

When young, ill, old, injured, weak, lactating or pregnant cattle are in the herd, they should be segregated and provided feed separately to ensure they receive adequate nutrition and are not denied feed by more dominant cows/bulls. Generally, these groups of animals may also require better quality feed and supplements in order to fare well during this period.

Feed testing of winter hay should be done to ensure that they will meet the nutritional needs of the animals. Energy and protein levels are particularly important and testing will help determine the level of supplemental feeding/nutrition required (e.g., grains, vitamins, minerals). Always ensure you have adequate feed stored for the winter!


There is a continuing debate about the adequacy of snow as a sole source of water for overwintered cattle. Beef cattle will drink between 26 to 66 liters per day and a lactating dairy cow will drink as much as 120 liters of water per day. While loose, plentiful and fresh snow may meet the hydration needs of cattle in good health and body condition, for animals less than ideal state of health, access to clean, unfrozen water is required at all times. According to the Code of Practice for the Care and Handling of Beef Cattle:

“…Snow may only be used as a sole winter water source if it is of sufficient quantities and quality to meet the animal’s physiological requirements.

Snow must not be used as a sole water source for the following cattle:

  • lactating, or
  • newly weaned, or
  • that have a body condition score less than 2.5 out of 5, or
  • that don’t have access to optimal feed resources…”

Ice-crusted, wind-blown or trampled snow is not considered an adequate source of water for any cattle. Given that winter conditions vary widely, and loose, fresh snow of adequate quantities is not always available, we recommend that automated heated waterers be made available to overwintered cattle and these should be monitored on a daily basis to ensure that they are in good working order.

Shelter and Bedding

Cattle should be protected from extreme weather conditions. In winter, it is important to provide a windbreak and /or shelter so that the animal can avoid hypothermia, frostbite and death. Shelter can either be natural shelterbelt (e.g., trees or shrubs) or man-made.

Adequate amounts of bedding should be provided in areas where cattle sleep to protect them from the frozen ground and to reduce heat loss to the environment. Bedding will also reduce manure and mud matting which reduces the insulating properties provided by the hair coat. In winter, staying dry is key to staying warm!



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