Before winter arrives, your ranch needs to be prepared for whatever weather the winter may bring. It’s important to take action early, as winter can arrive without much notice, especially with the unpredictability of Texas weather. Here are some tips to prep your ranch for the incoming winter season.
Provide Wind Protection
Although most livestock can survive most extreme weather, it’s important to equip your fields with various areas for your cattle to take shelter if needed. Even if it stays above freezing this winter, strong winds can make it feel much colder for your animals, especially if they’re near a pond or lake. Your fields will need to provide some type of wind protection for your cattle in case it gets blizzard-like. Natural windbreaks include treed areas, hills, and large rocks, although you can build some type of shelter if your land doesn’t already have natural protection. Inspect these potential windbreakers to be sure they can withstand strong winds and blistering conditions, and ensure your livestock can find shelter throughout the property.
Cattle are pretty resourceful and can graze even when the snow is about a foot deep. You want to prepare your grazing fields for the winter so your cattle will stay active if it snows, while also making sure there’s enough feed to supplement their diet. It’s crucial to check winter forages in your area so you understand the nutrients, and if you need to provide any extra supplements in the winter months.
You also need to be aware of any plants that may become toxic to your livestock after the frost, such as sudangrass. It’s important to take a regular inventory of what foliage your cattle are consuming, their grazing habits, and what supplements they may need in different seasons.
Fencing & Drainage
Sturdy, reliable fencing is crucial, and it’s important to repair and replace any fence posts before it gets cold. Replacing fence posts when the ground is frozen is next to impossible, plus, your cattle may be more likely to wander through a broken fence if they’re looking for shelter from winter weather.
You also need to check your drainage system outlet to make sure it is stable and won’t interfere with water flow. You want to ensure water easily moves from the soil’s surface and that it moves easily in case of a freeze or winter storm tree damage.
Consider Water Sources
The winter months make it more difficult for cattle to find water. Cattle prefer warm water over ice cold, and if their water source freezes over, they’ll likely give up and look somewhere else. If you use stock tank heaters, you should dust them off and make any repairs needed before you need them, or ensure you have an efficient way to haul warm water to your cows—especially if it snows or freezes. Reminder: A cow needs a recommended 7-12 gallons of water per day.
Set Up Shelter for Calving and Treatment
Are any due dates approaching? Ensure your calving areas are winter-proof, with shelter, feeders, proper fencing, and that it’s accessible for you, no matter the weather. It’s also a good idea to designate a spot protected from the elements for sick cows or cows suffering from nutritional deficiencies.
Your equipment should be checked every fall for issues so repairs can be made before it gets cold. This includes your tractors, trailers, chutes and gates. The chutes will need to be warmed up before use if it gets too cold, so be sure you have a plan in place.
As the days get shorter, it’s also important to be sure you have working lights on equipment and lights in the barns, to be sure you can continue work after daylight if needed.
As a rancher, you’re always busy working in the field and tending to your livestock. Checking these things off of your list can help ensure your fields and animals are prepared for whatever the Texas winter brings, keeping you and your animals safe, and saving you money and extra work in the long run.
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