Cold Weather Considerations for Cattle

February 06, 2019

Cold snaps and blizzards rocked many parts of the Northern Hemisphere last week, leaving many miserable and uncomfortable. While research shows that not all cows are as pessimistic about their environments as we humans can be, it’s obviously still important to protect them from the harsh elements. Here are some things to keep in mind.


A key way to protect cattle is the same step you’d take for yourself on a chilly day: making your environment warm and comfortable. To do this, you need to provide ample dry bedding, especially when the weather is wet. For calves especially, straw is the ideal bedding choice to insulate the animals from the cold ground.

It’s also important to ensure access to clean water, as dehydration is an underestimated risk in the winter. Double-check that water access is free of ice. Also be careful of a heightened mastitis risk — when windchills dip to -25°F, as they did in much of the U.S. last week, teats can freeze in less than one minute, leading to injuries that could become infected.

If cattle are too cold, they will be lethargic, shiver excessively and generally seem weak. Be on the lookout for these signs.


Pests never rest. With animals standing closer together for warmth, the risk of lice transmission goes up. When lice feed on cows, vital energy is lost; energy that should be going towards combating the higher nutritional needs cows face when temperatures plummet.

Symptoms of a lice infestation include oily texture on the cattle, missing or matted hair and raw skin from over-scratching. A good insecticide and clean facilities can stop lice in their tracks.


While most cattle producers in the U.S. follow a spring calving calendar, there’s no shortage of young, winter-borne cattle on farms and ranches this February. Ohio State University Extension educator Rory Lewandowski says that the biggest challenge in winter calf care is the increased nutritional requirement for body maintenance in cold weather.

“Cold weather nutrition for young calves is critical for a couple of reasons,” Lewandowski says. “One is the fact that calves are born with only two to four percent of their body weight as fat. This means that if diets are not meeting maintenance needs, the calf can quickly burn up fat reserves.”

According to Lewandowski, generally calves in unheated conditions need an additional 10% of milk for every 10°F below 32°F to prevent weight loss as they burn through fat. He recommends an additional feeding each day to compensate and to always offer calves clean water.

Neogen offers extensive product lines that help dairy producers care for their animals, including products to help with mastitis and cold weather conditions. See our website for more information.


Category: Animal Safety, Beef, Dairy, Animal Health, Insect Control, Veterinary Instruments