Effects of Cold Stress on Intake

A major problem depressing the performance of cattle in winter months is cold stress. In winter, cattle experience a dramatic increase in maintenance requirements, but they may not increase their feed intake; they actually may decrease their intake.

Data suggests that energy required for maintenance is increased by 1.3 percent per degree centigrade below 20°C or 1.7 percent per degree fahrenheit below 68°F.

Some producers incorrectly believe that the problem with increasing maintenance requirements during cold stress is at least partially offset by increased consumption. Nothing could be farther from the truth, as the table below shows; it illustrates the depressing effect that winter conditions may have on consumption. Add to this a normal photoperiod effect, and at best one should expect small consumption decreases during the winter.

Summary of Voluntary Feed Intake of
Beef Cattle Exposed to Non-thermal Stress

Stressor Estimated Effect on Intake

Temporary depression of 10-30%

Mild, 10-20 cm deep Intakes depressed 5-15%
Severe, 30-60 cm deep Intakes depressed 15-30%
Mud effects are greatest when access to feed is limited and there is lack of a suitable bedded area.

Illness or disease (nonspecific)

Usually accompanied with severe depression in voluntary intake

Some nutritionists have searched for dietary manipulations that might alleviate winter stress problems, and increased roughage levels in front of a storm may be beneficial because they do reduce the risk of acidosis.

The strategy that seems to result in the most performance improvement during cold stress is to provide a bedding of straw. During periods of severe cold stress, the average daily gain and feed efficiency of straw-bedded cattle was improved by 25 percent and 47 percent, respectively.

Editor’s Note: This information was taken from an article in Feedstuffs, April 17, 1995.