The National Cattlemen’s Beef Association (NCBA) recently hosted a seminar to help farmers prepare their cattle herd for winter. This session was led by NCBA’s Director and Producer of Education Michaela Clowser and taught by Dr. Karla Wilke, a cow/calf stocker management specialist at the University of Nebraska, and Dr. Maggie Justice, a beef cattle Extension specialist at the University of Arkansas.

Wilke focused on winter feeding in the north, whereas Justice focused on the southern U.S. Maintaining your herd throughout winter is similar in both regions of the U.S., but they also have their different challenges. No matter where you are located, there are a few key concepts to keep in mind when preparing your herd for cold weather and short days.

Pay attention to your herd’s body condition scores. As Wilke mentioned, “We need to know if that cow needs to be in a moderate condition to hold her own. Does she have the opportunity to gain? Is it okay for her to lose a little weight?” Especially keep in mind what stage of production she is in at the time. If she is in late gestation (soon to be early lactation), there is a nutritional demand that you must be prepared for. Not only is BCS important for the cow, but Wilke explained how influential the dam’s BCS at calving is on the calf itself.

It’s understood that an underweight cow at calving produces a lower quality colostrum than a healthy cow. Additionally, underweight cows tend to give birth to weaker calves who struggle to receive their dam’s colostrum fast enough to consume the high immunoglobulins it needs. An adequate BCS is not only ideal for calving, but also for lactation.

Analyze your hay storage, and order more as soon as possible if you’ll need it. However, there are plenty of options to minimize waste and stretch your current supply of hay. Some examples Justice mentioned were choosing a small diameter bale to minimize the amount of hay that falls on the ground; avoid creating mud holes by leaving the bale in the same spot; and restrict hay access to reduce waste by up to 20%.

Finally, balancing nutrition in general is essential, and “nutrition does not come in a bag,” as Justice explained. Besides a high-quality and balanced feed, you have to keep in mind maintaining a healthy body, breeding and rebreeding, milk production and growth.

One great method to help balance your feed is forage testing. “Forage quality is worth something, and forage testing is worth every penny,” Justice said.

For more information on preparing your herd for winter, visit

by Kelsi Devolve