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Feeding Cattle in Cold Temperatures

The current cold snap occurring across the province is a concern for humans and livestock. Reducing the stress on cattle created by cold temperatures is a management concern.

Adjust the current rations to meet requirements. Cattle produce heat when digesting feed. Cattle can stay warm down to -20 C if they are protected from the wind and have a dry haircoat. Larger animals eat more feed, produce more heat than a 500 pound weaned calf. Thus, the smaller animals are more at risk to suffer from cold stress. Newborn calves are at the highest risk of succumbing to the cold.

Cattle consume more feed in cold weather. This is their defense mechanism to produce more heat. Having animals consume more straw in the ration or off the bedding pack is not advisable. Straw is a low protein, low energy, high fibre feed that takes more time for the animals to digest compared to hay, silage or grain. It is difficult for bacteria to digest the Neutral Detergent Fibre (NDF). Consuming extra straw reduces the total protein content in the ration which slows bacteria repopulation which is needed to digest the fibre. When NDF exceeds 60% in the ration, feed intake may drop two, three or four pounds a day. This reduces total nutrient intake which can cause the animals to drop condition.

Providing extra hay or silage maintains protein content in the ration. Grain is a high energy feed that is the most beneficial when temperature drops below -20 C. At -30 C, increase grain intake by an extra two lb. of grain per head per day over and above what was previously being fed at -20 C. If temperatures drop to -40 C, four lb. of extra grain per head per day needs to be added.

Thin animals are more prone to cold stress than those in good shape. They do not have the fat layer that provides insulation. The recommended two to four pounds of additional grain during the cold weather might have to be stepped up to six or seven pounds to maintain body weight.

Preventing weight loss during cold stress is key to having mature cows develop a strong calf and adequate colostrum to prevent problems at calving. Thin cows also have more difficulty conceiving a calf at breeding season.

For more information on feeding cattle during cold temperatures, contact Barry at 403-741-6032 or


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