Winter Care of the Cow Herd Compared in New Publication

Oct 02, 2023

By Garland Dahlke and  Sherry Hoyer

 Best management practices for winter care of the cow herd aren’t always evident, especially when those unfamiliar with raising livestock see animals outdoors in open fields during cold, snowy weather without apparent access to shelter.

A recent Iowa State University study was designed to evaluate whether the effects of winter grazing or confinement for winter care of beef cows in Iowa would have any impact on the physical condition of the cow or the calf born to the cow in spring.

The study looked at two types of winter feeding and care, and compared three management groups of cows at two Iowa State farm locations from December to early March.

Project leader Garland Dahlke, associate scientist with the Iowa Beef Center, said the cows were at least second parity and either Black Angus or a percentage of Black Angus and Simmental breeding, and all were due to calve mid-March through April.

"Half of the cows in all groups were placed in a feedyard with some degree of shelter, and the other half was assigned to a winter swath grazing protocol,” he said. “All were supplemented with better quality feed about three weeks prior to calving to ensure adequate forage quality for cows and their developing calves.”

Measurements throughout the trial included forage quality; weather data; water intake; cow weight, visual body condition scoring, mud scoring and ultrasound of 12th rib fat cover and ribeye area; and calving data. Although there were slight measurement differences between and among the groups by location, it appears that where feedstuff quality is similar between scenarios, there is no difference.

A new four-page publication details the project study, results and findings. Look for Winter Care of the Cow Herd: Confinement Versus Open Grazing, IBC147 available as a free download from the ISU Extension store.

The study was made possible with funding from the Illinois Beef Association, the cooperation of the Iowa State University McNay Memorial Research and Demonstration Farm and Iowa State University Beef Teaching Farm.

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