Maintaining healthy cattle during winter

13 Apr 2018

Colder temperatures raise nutrient requirements of both cows and calves. Consequently, extra high quality feed may be necessary to help livestock maintain their core body temperatures and keep the immune system functioning properly.

If grazing is not supplemented during winter, an animal’s production and fertility rate declines. Not only does the animal become stunted, if it is pregnant, it is unable to carry to term or raise offspring to maturity.

Namibia is an extensive livestock production country with the sector divided into two major groupings, namely the commercial sector with privately owned farms, and a large communal sector.

Winter supplementation is not new regardless of the farmer’s operations. In the past, crop residues were used to feed livestock in winter, but as time went by some farmers began to treat crops with urea to improve protein content.

According to Meatco’s Feedlot Veterinarian, Dr Alexandra Duvel, the primary aim of a winter lick is protein supplementation (mostly NPN, although in sandy areas P is included at a maintenance level).

By law, such a supplement provides an equivalent of 150g of crude protein per day to cattle.

Maize meal or hominy chop is used in winter lick to cause a pH-drop in the rumen for slower urea release. Intake is regulated with salt.

The protein in the lick sustains rumen micro-organisms, improving the digestibility of the pasture.

Namibia is an extensive livestock producing country with a relatively low and highly variable rainfall. Due to this, the nutrient content and availability of the natural pastures fluctuate from year to year and between the wet and dry season.

The wet season starts in November/December and continues until March/April, with January and February receiving the highest precipitation.

The dry season stretches from May until the end of October. The most difficult period is from August until October, when the nutritional value of natural grazing is at its lowest, and cows are in their final trimester of pregnancy.

It is during this period that livestock suffers most from nutritional deficiencies because of a drop in the nutritional value of natural grazing.

It is important to note that among our livestock we have grazers (e.g. cattle) and browsers (e.g. goats). Since bushes contain more nutrients than grass, grazers tend to suffer greater nutritional deficiencies compared to browsers during this period.

Typical licks used in Namibia are winter, summer and production licks. Their use is advocated in both farming sectors, since the benefits have been proven over many years.

Unfortunately communal farmers are reluctant to use the licks as prescribed due to the high initial costs and because an immediate benefit is not always visible and advantages are only recognised later.

Still, farmers who invest in lick supplements get their money’s worth through higher production and the fertility of their livestock.

In conclusion, keep in mind that licks are only used to supplement the most limited nutrients. It is important to keep animals on the pasture and not to substitute pasture with lick.

In the picture Meatco's Technical Adviser, Peter Amwaama here with a healthy ox.