Cattle feed needs rise as mercury falls

Frigid Canadian temperatures mean greater feed requirements for cattle, say livestock experts.

“Colder weather requires additional feed for livestock in terms of volume, energy and protein,” says Manitoba Agriculture livestock specialist Shawn Cabak. “When temperatures drop more than 10 C from normal, 15 to 20 per cent more energy is required.”

For every 5 C below -20 C, increase the grain by about one kilograms (2.2 pounds) over and above the levels the animals normally receive, adds Saskatchewan Agriculture’s regional livestock specialist, Leah Clark.

Conversely, when temperatures rise above normal, less feed is required.

Weather impacts energy needs

Much of Canada has experienced extremes on both ends of the thermometer, with below and above normal temperatures.

“Environment greatly affects the energy needs of the animals and therefore, it is important to keep up on temperature fluctuation so that producers are neither overfeeding nor underfeeding animals,” Clark says.

“It is important that livestock are fed a balanced ration for all the nutrients including energy, protein, minerals, vitamins and water, regardless of the temperature,” Cabak adds.

A call to a nutritionist or running data through Alberta Agriculture’s ration balancing software, Cowbytes, can assist ranchers making ration changes.

“It is important to adjust the rations quickly when temperatures drop so that the cattle’s needs are being met on a daily basis,” Cabak says.


Corn has been increasing in popularity as a winter grazing option for cattle, Clark says.

“A lot of this has to do with the new grazing and low heat unit varieties being developed,” she says.

“Corn grazing works well under cold temperatures as corn is high in energy - above livestock requirements,” adds Cabak. “Since it is free choice, they will eat more as their needs increase, so allocation will need to be higher.”

Clark, however, warns corn grazing presents the issue of rumen acidosis or grain overload.

Water and shelter

Given feed consumption is related to water intake, Cabak says providing water or ensuring there’s adequate snow as a water source is especially important when temperatures are below normal. Young, older or thinner cattle are particularly needy as they have higher nutritional requirements.

Extreme cold also heightens the need for adequate shelter.

“Cold and wind chill are hard on livestock, requiring more energy for maintenance,” he says.

Bottom line

This winter's Canadian deep freeze necessitates raising cattle feed rations. For every 5 C below -20 C, increase the grain by about one kilograms (2.2 pounds) over and above the levels the animals normally receive.

Article by: Richard Kamchen