Horses Eating

Winter Feeding and Weight Management

Maintaining the ideal weight for your cattle and horses can be difficult through the lean winter months. With the proper winter feeding and weight management, however, can keep your livestock in the best condition for a healthy winter that leads to a productive spring.

How Dietary Needs Change in Winter

The dietary needs of both cattle and horses can change dramatically in winter. Pasture forage will become less nutritious as the field is grazed but the grass and plants are no longer growing to replenish the pasture. This is exactly the time when animals need more calories to maintain their body heat as the air temperature is dropping. Pregnant animals have different nutritional needs at different stages of their pregnancies, and all livestock should have proper nutrition to resist illnesses in winter. It can be a challenge to balance the dietary needs of your livestock through winter’s changing conditions, but it is possible to offer a healthy, nutritious diet that will keep all your animals in peak shape throughout the season.

Winter Feeding Tips for Horses and Cattle

The exact needs of cattle and horses will vary depending on each individual animal’s age, breed, general condition, work load, gender, and the environmental conditions they face throughout the winter. To offer your animals the best winter diet…

  • Increase Rations – Offer a greater quantity of high quality food to facilitate weight gain in late fall and early winter. This increased weight will help insulate animals and provide them better energy to survive winter’s harsh conditions.
  • Supplement as Needed – Additional supplements of nutrients, minerals, fat, or concentrated carbohydrates can be useful to ensure your livestock is getting the proper winter nutrition. Take care not to overdo supplements, however, or you risk upsetting the animals’ digestive health.
  • Provide Adequate Water – All livestock will need access to clean, fresh, liquid water throughout the winter. Melting snow and ice can dramatically lower an animal’s body temperature and is not a guaranteed way to provide them with enough water for their needs.
  • Rotate Pastures – If possible, rotate animals through several pastures during the winter months so they can take advantage of better forage in different fields. Prepping pastures with late summer seeding or similar tactics can help ensure the best natural forage.
  • Provide High Quality Hay – Adding high quality hay to your animals’ diet will supplement their forage when natural pastures have fewer plants available in winter. Hay with higher amounts of protein can be especially effective, depending on your animals’ specific needs.
  • Keep Emergency Food on Hand – A severe storm can easily disrupt feed deliveries, so it is important to have an adequate supply of extra food and hay on hand for your animals. This stockpile should be rotated throughout the season to keep it fresh and nutritious.
  • Watch the Weather – In the days leading up to a predicted storm, offer your animals slightly more feed and water so they are adequately prepared for the changing conditions. If possible, move vulnerable animals into shelter so they can be more closely monitored and cared for.

If any animal is not responding to a winter feeding regimen well or appears to rapidly lose weight, consult your veterinarian immediately for an expert diagnosis and recommendations.   

Managing Animals’ Winter Weight

All livestock should be carefully watched during the winter to ensure they have adequate food and equal feeding opportunities. If necessary, separating thin or struggling animals into a different area for feeding can help balance which animals can access the food and help you better monitor their progress. Providing shelter in the pasture through windbreaks or access to a stable or barn during the worst winter weather can also help keep your animals’ weight under control, as they will not need to burn as many calories for warmth if they have some protection. Keeping their weight balanced through all of winter’s changes can be a challenge, but with proper attention and care all your horses and cattle can thrive during the winter and reach spring at the proper weight and body condition.