Supplementary Feeding of Cattle in Winter


Supplementary Feeding of Cattle in Winter

Due to several weather related factors, winter is usually a difficult season for cattle and cattle farmers. During this time of the year, the ruminants require more resources and cautious management practices that ensure their survival and optimal performance with regards to production. Livestock farmers are expected to pay extra attention to provisions such as shelter, feeding, water requirements and manure management especially among older, sick and productive animals. One of the most important of these is feeding. Throughout the extremely cold season, cattle’s require extra nutrient boosts made available through supplementary feeding.

Cattle Farming in Winter

As an extreme season, winter is characterized by a variation of harsh and unfavorable weather conditions. During this time of the year, temperate regions experience a sudden decrease in temperature1. The weather may be windy, chilly, and sometimes freezing in response to lower temperatures. These expose animals to an unsafe drop in body temperature resulting from exposure to cold temperature. Also, grazing cattle may expend more energy trekking longer distances in search of pasture. As a result of increased energy consumption, the cattle’s require more feed intake to meet their energy demands. During winter, it is common for water bodies to dry up, resulting in a decline of available drinking water.

Besides heightened stress levels, another challenge with cattle farming during winter is the drop in pasture nutrients due to unfavorable weather conditions. Pastures at this time contain lower amounts of phosphorus and sulphur required for bone and teeth formation, and rumen microbial synthesis respectively3. This is due to low temperature and the absence of rainfall required to replenish grazed pastures with fresh and highly nutritious forage. Unclear weather and lowered oxygen levels also prevents photosynthesis, transpiration and root development, thus, inhibiting plant nutrient absorption. Less nutritious forage makes it difficult to maintain normal cattle weight at this time.

Supplementary Feeding of Cattle in Winter

The drop in temperature and increase in relative humidity during winter generally exposes cattle to unusual stress levels. They become fragile, easily underweight and prone to diseases especially when left without extra care. This is why it is important to provide an extra boost through supplementary feeding. Supplementary feeding2 is sometimes mistaken for, but is quite distinct from survival and production feeding. While survival feeding provides an animal with the basic nutrients it requires to survive, production feeding serves to supply animals with feed nutrients required to facilitate production functions like breeding or production of meat and dairy products. Supplementary feeding simply serves to supply deficient nutrients2 and ensure the efficient utilization of the animal’s normal diet.

Supplementary feeds are usually provided as a component of a cattle’s main diet.With an understanding of the animal’s original diet and nutrient requirements, the feed is provided to either address deficiencies or ensure completeness. It helps cattle maintain normal body weight and system functionality and facilitates growth and production functions. According to a publication by the Noble Research Institute4, all cows specially require supplements in their feeds during winter. These supplements help maintain the cows health and supports fetal formation during pregnancy. Supplements may be of protein or energy sources depending on what is available in the animal’s original feed and the quantity of nutrients required for the animal’s optimal performance5. As temperatures drop during winter, energy supplements for example supply cattle with sufficient calories to maintain body heat and keep warm.

Basic Principles of Supplementary Feeding

For effectiveness, supplementary feeding should be approached strategically bearing in mind factors upon which it is dependent. These factors include the age, gender, breed and health of the animals. Additionally, it should be well prepared for, and must be capable of meeting the animal’s energy, protein, mineral and roughage needs6. Other basic principles of supplementary feeding include;

  1. As part of timely preparation, the livestock farmer/manager should determine the animal’s deficiencies and possible nutrient requirements before signs of malnutrition become evident;
  2. With professional advice, select the supplements to be provided to the animal. Examples of feed supplements include silage which can as energy, protein, mineral and roughage sources; others are molasses; lupines, hay, lime and phosphorus. Lime and phosphorus should be provided based on recommended dosage.
  3. The supplements should be well balanced to meet the animal’s nutrient needs throughout winter;
  4. Protein and energy feeds are essential components of supplements. However, animals with productive capacity including young animals and expectant cows should be supplied more protein in recommended quantities;
  5. Supplements should only be provided as needed. It is important to avoid overdose.
  6. Ensure availability of adequate water and supply of good quality and quantity of normal rations in addition to the supplements. Animals should not be fed supplements alone.
  7. Have a budget which conveniently fits in supplementary feeding throughout the winter period;

Benefits of Supplementary Feeding

The main benefit of supplementary feeding lies in its ability to provide animals with the extra nutrients required to perform optimally throughout winter. Other direct and indirect benefits of the management practice include;

  1. Supplementary feeding aids digestion and efficient utilization of feed;
  2. Maintenance of animal health: the extra nutrients provided ensure that cattle are healthy and able to perform all necessary body functions throughout the period of stress.
  3. Prevents investment losses: the healthy state of animals prevents sudden illnesses or death that could account for huge farm losses. Investment losses may also occur when animals fail to out rightly produce or produce low quality by-products. However, with supplementary feeding, animals are able to perform all production functions despite unfavorable conditions.
  4. Indirectly, supplementary feeding keeps farming families employed and in business. It ensures growing communities where animal farms exist.
  5. It ensures consistency in animal by-products supply chain through the year.

Due to its high cost requirements and lower returns during seasons when cattle’s are able to perform optimally without supplements, supplementary feeding can be difficult to account for outside winter. The high cost requirement also emphasizes the need to be strategic even during winter when the practice is required. This why it should be well planned and adequately prepared for.


  1. Oregon State University (2010): Winter Livestock Care.
  2. Primefacts (2007): Supplementary Feeding of Cattle.
  3. Dairy Cattle (1999): Sulphur in Ruminant Nutrition.
  4. Noble Research Institute (2020): Winter Cow Supplementation: Protein and Energy Explained. Retrieved on 25th June 2022 from
  5. Queensland Governement (2018): Supplementation Feeding Considerations.
  6. Meat and Livestock Australia: Supplementary Feeding. Retrieved on 25th June 2022 from,seed%20meal%2C%20lupins%2C%20silage.

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