Selecting a Proper Wintering Site
Research over the past decade has suggested you get your cows out of the corrals and have them winter extensively. It’s good for your livestock, your land, and the watershed as a whole! But how do you choose a proper site? Things to consider are:
Wind Protection –Wind chill can have a major impact on winter feeding requirements. A breeze of 20 km/hr will make -10OC feel like -20OC, which will increase energy requirements 20%. Tree and shrub cover is the simplest solution, if available. There is one drawback, though, with using vegetation as windbreak; because they are rooted and stationary, animals will congregate in that same area every year, causing manure to build up and potentially causing damage to the trees. Portable windbreaks are another option. It is recommended for optimal manure management you should move windbreaks at least once a month during the winter.
Soil Texture and Topography - When the ground softens in the spring, moisture will infiltrate through the soil, and the build-up of manure on top of it. Light, sandy land and a high water table can lead to future water quality concerns. Also consider topography; where will spring run-off accumulate? Run-off brings things like nitrates and coliforms from manure along with it!
Land Use – Tame pasture or hay land is often an ideal location for extensive wintering systems. It is not recommended to feed bales on native pasture, due to the potential invasion of weeds and aggressive grass seeds that may be present in the hay. Feeding on hay land helps return some of the nutrients that have been removed by the crop, and can be a valuable source of “free” fertilizer. When choosing a site, also consider access. Will you be able to get to your livestock in the dead of winter to deliver feed?
Water – What is available as a winterized water source? Studies in Alberta have shown that ruminants (cows and sheep) can successfully use snow as a water source – but there must be enough soft, clean snow available. On average, the moisture content of snow is 10:1. So it takes 10 gallons (45 litres) of snow to create one gallon (4.5 litres) of water. Assuming a pregnant cows needs eight to ten gallons of fresh water per day, that means 80 gallons of snow per head per day! Other alternatives include winter pipelines, winter solar systems, and frost-free nose pumps.
For more information, please see our poster on Livestock Wintering Sites