To Carefully Manage Sacrifice Areas Where Cattle Are Fed In Winter

On February 01, 2020

To Carefully Manage Sacrifice Areas Where Cattle Are Fed In Winter

During the winter months, livestock feeding and loafing areas are often of great concern and discussion to animal livestock producers. Often, a limiting resource is prevalent on an operation, such as appropriate land to winter feed or having the proper livestock numbers to suit the available resources.  Extension Educators Justin Brackenrich and Nicole Santangelo explain in these instances, winter feeding, especially in wet years, can leave even the most experienced managers struggling for answers. 

Winter feeding preparation must begin earlier in the year, before winter. If land and wintering facilities are limited, consider adjusting livestock numbers. This will help with stored and harvested feedstuffs, as well as decrease winter manure collection. Stocking rates should always remain fluid and ever-changing depending on feeding resources and facilities and availability to stockpiled and spring forages. 

Livestock feed consumption and nutritional needs increase in colder temperatures due to increased metabolic processes resulting in the need for additional pounds of dry matter intake (DMI) per day. During winter feeding, 2.5-3.0% of body weight is a general rule of thumb for feed to animal weight ratio. This means, a 1250-pound cow needs to eat 31 and 38 pounds of dry matter (DM) per day to meet her nutritional requirements. Additionally, livestock expend energy differently based on external temperature and whether their coats are wet or dry.  

Using a covered barn or reinforced lot is an effective way to reduce stress on the animals, reduce feed waste, and can aid in preserving animal health during winter feeding. Using covered barns also provide some other advantages. By feeding in a covered barn or reinforced pad, manure can be contained and applied to areas of the operation where it is needed, like row crops or forages. Another advantage is that it keeps livestock contained and in a central location, easing the ability for livestock handling and care. As helpful as these facilities can be, they still present their challenges. Feeding in barns and lots means that the liquid, whether that is manure, urine, rain, or snow, is generally contained. Bedding is a major concern and can be an additional cost to operations that are not prepared for it. Indoor hay feeding can help provide some bedding, but the addition of hay, straw, sawdust or corn stalks is necessary to keep the facility dry and the livestock healthy. Another concern is muddy areas that occur along the edge of the barns or reinforced pads. Where the foundation or gravel stops, mud is commonly an issue and is especially troublesome to young stock in these areas. Monitor these areas, as they will often occur along laneways, gates, and any entry point.  Other concerns can be manure storage, young stock safety, and runoff issues. 

Barns with covered areas do not always have a concrete slab or a stone loafing area but can have an area that is clay or another compacted surface which can scraped. The overall goal of these facilities is to reduce the degradation of fields and keep livestock out of standing mud and water, while being able to collect manure nutrients and apply them to fields in the spring. These areas are a gold standard in winter feeding facilities but require keen management and a well-suited area. 

Feeding livestock on pasture during winter months is a common practice, which under certain management, can be quite successful. Pasture feeding is most effective in a climate when the ground is frozen. Otherwise, it can result in a sacrifice area or stress lot. Pasture feeding provides some very positive advantages over other wintering methods for livestock grazers. Feed sources, like hay and mineral feeders, can be moved around to encourage animals to move away from highly traveled, popular areas of the pasture and distribute manure and hoof traffic around the area while reducing nutrient concentration in certain areas of the field. This limits the amount of stockpiled waste that must be spread in the spring during clean-out. 

Pasture feeding does not limit feeding to a single area, but utilizes all pastures, rotating livestock across the operation, reducing some risk of compaction and degradation. However, there are always negative returns with every system. Some disadvantages of pasture feeding include livestock not being centralized in a single location, making containment difficult in the event of bad weather. Bale wagons, ring feeders, or rolling out hay results in feeding losses from 10-50% and the potential for nutrient hot spots in pastures where the forage has been fed.  Young animal morbidity can be a concern when feeding outdoors with cold weather, mud, and wet conditions. 

Unless the pasture that is being fed in is scheduled for renovation, pasture feeding usually works best when is it coupled with another system like a sacrifice lot or a covered barn and reinforced pad. By combining the two techniques, livestock can be contained during periods of cold and wet weather, preserving the pasture, and they can be pasture-fed when the area is dry or frozen. This will allow the livestock to have area to be out and move, but also be protected during periods of distressing weather. 

Many options for wintering livestock exist. Covered barns may be the ideal winter area for some, whereas other operations can take advantage of the economic advantages of pasture feeding or stockpiled feeds. Sacrifice areas require maintenance and care to ensure animal and environmental health. Choose an option that matches your management style and supports the environmental and economic goals of your farm.

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