Although winter weather conditions are extreme, with adequate feed and water supplies South Dakota livestock are designed to withstand these frigid temperatures, said Alvaro Garcia, SDSU Extension Agriculture and Natural Resources Program Director & Professor.

“Livestock cope with extremely low temperatures by increasing feed intake,” Garcia said. “Cows in particular eat more forage since its fermentation in the rumen increases their core body temperature.”

The recent December 2016 USDA National Agriculture Statistics Service South Dakota Crop Progress and Condition Report (released January 3, 2017) shows our state’s cattle are doing just that.

“Cattle and calf conditions were rated as follows: 0 percent very poor, 2 poor, 15 fair, 79 good, and 4 excellent.

Whereas cattle and calf death loss rated 0 percent heavy, 69 average, and 31 light.

As the cold temperatures continue, Garcia reminded cattle producers that with increased feed intake cattle also need more water. “The opposite also happens; with water restriction, feed intake drops, and as a result a reduction in the ability to withstand cold temperatures,” he said.

Garcia added that making drinking water available to livestock during freezing temperatures can become a challenge if trough water heaters do not function properly or even worse, during a power outage.

“Providing an adequate, unfrozen water supply is obviously not a one-idea-fits-all kind of situation. However, modifying some of these tips and adapting them to particular situations will likely avoid some headaches this season and in winters to come,” he said.

Tips to keep water flowing

Tank heaters: There are several types of heaters to choose from in the market, when making the decision on which to purchase, Garcia suggested considering a submersible heater which is not pushed around by cattle as they drink.

He added that it may be worth selecting one with a thermostat which will conserve electricity once the weather warms-up.

A propane tank heater may be a good solution if the water trough is located far away from a power source or in the case of power failure.

He reminded producers that if the heater is powered by propane, it will need protection from the wind.

Lining the water troughs with insulating materials and/or using a relatively light floating board (untreated wood) that cattle can still push down to drink will slow down the formation of ice in the surface.

Trough location: Power outages usually happen during winter wind and/or ice storms. In these situations cattle will usually seek shelter. By placing water troughs in an area protected from the wind, producers can further protect the water from freezing and increase the likelihood that cattle will drink the water they need without spending additional energy.

“It helps to keep multiple troughs close together. This accomplishes two things: first, hauling water becomes easier. Second, by having more troughs there is more drinking space available and the less-dominant animals will also be able to drink,” Garcia said.

Maintaining a fresh water supply: Troughs need to be adequately filled to meet cattle’s increased need.

“However, there is no point in overfilling troughs since any water left will soon turn into ice,” Garcia said.