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Eating Snow Advice

Stocker Steve

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I have over 500 round bales on a remote farm with no winter water, minus 17 F., and knee deep powdery snow. It is fenced but some of the fence is single strand hi tensile. I am planning to use the pay loader to clean out a couple lanes this week and then trailering over some dry cows - - rather than hauling bales to them. :idea:

I am told that cows "learn" to eat snow after a couple days if there is no winter water available. Any transition tips, or previous experiences, with cows making a break for it trying to find their heated Richie waterer. :(
 

4CTophand

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University of Wyoming has a lot of information on the utilization of Snow----- cattle do not normally Utilize snow--- sheep do all the time..... I guess you could get some Texels eh?
 

kenny thomas

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No experience but a thought. Can a cow eat enough snow to satisfy their water needs? With the conversion of 10" of snow to 1" of water it would take a lot of snow to get 10 gal. per day which is about minimum need. Looking forward to other posts from anyone who has done this.
 

milkmaid

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Go over to ranchers.net and ask the Canadian guys. A lot of the Canadians and some folks on the Montana/Canada border winter their dry cows entirely without water.
 

Bez+

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Yes cows eat snow - in fact millions survive on it - as do their long distance cousins with multple stomachs - moose and deer.

Helps to have an older cow or two in the mix to start them off.

Not as efficient as water - but we have done this for years.

Lots of pros and lots of cons - but it works.

Beware of ice and hard crust snow. But the cows tend to break it up as they walk on it.

So have many, many others in all the prairie provinces and many of your northern states.

Bez+
 

angie1

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I wouldn't depend on snow to meet water needs on a dare. This has come up before and, as I said then, I don't care what moose and deer do. I think they are much genetically more efficient animals than cattle, they are more resourcful than cattle and I think there are plenty of deer and moose that are compromised by lack of water access in the winter. For sure cattle will go through a pond if allowed access.
 

SRBeef

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As seen here by the other posts there are differences in experience and opinion. The folks that have used snow only as a water source are basically out west of you and have cattle that have probably grown up with snow in the winter as a water source. I would suspect they also tend to find a spring or running stream somewhere.

If the trade off is hauling hay to the cattle I would ask myself if it was worth taking a chance with cattle that have never had to rely on snow as water before.

If you end up having to haul water to the cows in this weather that may end up being far more hassle that hauling hay bales. jmho. Good luck.
 

Aaron

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x2 what Bez said.

Old and loner cows are particular ones that will start eating snow right away. Also any that aren't a 'leader'. Leader cows will be more stubborn. They might lose a bit of condition, but they won't die. Clean a path and maybe a small area near the bales. Helps if your feeding the bales in a sheltered/wooded area. Our one waterer was on the fritz (bad element) for the last couple of days. Fixed today. In that time, the yearlings and one mature bull had to lick snow if they were thirsty.

Did you get that big dump of snow on Saturday? We got over a foot and are standing at a little over 3 feet of snow. Haven't had this much since the winter of 1996-97. Just about everyday we are shoveling out. Might be a good winter to kill off the deer. Was just told at Christmas by my uncle that MN is starting to test cattle herds for TB outside of the outer limit zone in the Northeast. Scary because his buddy's herd is being tested and he is just a couple miles from the Ontario border. :cowboy:
 

angie1

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Aaron":3un9ggrm said:
Scary because his buddy's herd is being tested and he is just a couple miles from the Ontario border. :cowboy:
It is scary. It was big talk around here this spring. As my best friend reminds me often enough ~ "fear is not knowing". That is especially true in this case. We didn't know how it was going to impact markets or our income, and feared the worst. To say its a bad thing would pathetically minimize it for those impacted, but it is not so bad as the rest of us were afraid of. Yet. Best of luck to him.
 

Stocker Steve

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Thanks for the feedback. I searched for eating snow info and did not find much detail. The basic message was it works, but it not recommended for thin old cows or heifers.

While I was searching I did find a thesis on winter feeding on pasture. Their bottom line was 40 to 70% more forage form pasture feeding over the next 18 months vs. mechanically spreading manure - - mostly due to better N and K capture from the urine.
 

Stocker Steve

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Aaron":203thvzr said:
Did you get that big dump of snow on Saturday? We got over a foot and are standing at a little over 3 feet of snow. Haven't had this much since the winter of 1996-97. Just about everyday we are shoveling out.

We have had plenty of snow, but not as much as the NE part of MN.
Lots of old tractor chains and snow mobiles are being dug out of the back of sheds here.
People are pulling fish houses off the lakes due to all the water and slush on top of the ice.
 

Alberta farmer

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In alberta a lot of guys swath grazing just let the cows eat snow. I have some good springs and those old cows will walk a long ways to get a drink rather than eat snow.
Several years ago I got pretty sick of cattle waterers always freezing up and replaced the two at the corrals with hydrants and water troughs. I have to fill them up but at least I'm not always out thawing out waterers! I doubt I would have changed except the well at the corrals went kaput and I had to drill another about 100 feet away so figured if I had to dig new water lines might as well get rid of those darn waterers! Incidently I got in a water witch and he found me a tremendous well at 50 ft./50 gal./min. Well worth the $100 he charged.
 

randiliana

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I know of numerous people in the area that have their cows eat snow. Once they adjust to it they do fine. They do prefer water over snow, but when your well isn't hardly putting out enough water for the household, and the creek water will kill them, snow is certainly a better option. Our cows have a waterhole cut for them every day, but if they don't get to it in time, they either eat snow, or wait til the next day.


Here are a couple links
http://www1.agric.gov.ab.ca/$department ... endocument

http://www.mbforagecouncil.mb.ca/Custom ... Cattle.pdf

http://www.agriculture.gov.sk.ca/Defaul ... d7092f1513

http://www.pasturemanagement.com/balegrazing.htm
 

Bez+

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Steve

I responded to your PM - check it buddy.

Despite all my scribing I should have waited - Randi put out a good one with her posts - read them.

Especially the bale grazing post - it has a lot of good info and it is from my old stomping grounds.

I will ramble a bit as I have time - hope you do not mind.

As in my PM - it is a behaviour they have to learn - which is why I like to do it with older cows in the mix. If they do not learn you have to pull them out - we cull those - no slow learners allowed. I am not in the mood to support them - good cow or not they go - they work for us - not the other way around. Sometimes those good cows are the cows that cost you a lot - we sometimes over look this because they are a "good cow" - but they can cost not only in money, but "other things". I do not have loyalty to any cows - BSE taught me that.

As a side note to all - we sold most of our cattle when I crossed the pond to live over here for a couple of years - but wife is still feeding cows on the farm at home.

Those cattle are eating bales I laid out in fields when I went home last November on some R&R. I think I posted on that already. They will eat there until next June when they go to pasture.

I do not lay them on their side as pics show in the bale grazing article - I stand them as they come out of the baler. We take the twines and wrap off of them just before the tractor sets them on the ground. I believe they shed more water if the fall is wet instead of cold and snowy - on their side they tend to soak it up and then freeze hard.

I know Peter Lundgard and Neil Boyd - I started doing this about the same time as them. I got tired of starting tractors and paying to plug them in and paying for water heaters - of which we have enough as it is!

What we do different from the articles is we seldom keep them on snow for more than 8 weeks - our winters are shorter and they do not go on to snow until late December - then all January and into February. We bring them up and get ready for March calving - which - as I was reminded tonight in an email is delayed until April this year - so they may stay on snow longer.

Age is affecting my memory - but wife keeps it on the right track! Seems to enjoy doing it as well.

I got tired of spreading manure and cleaning pens. And I know that it pencils out far better for us than feeding every day despite those who claim there is hay wastage. We never bed them either - seems they will eat their bedding as time goes on. :) So we have zero straw cost.

December saw 92 cm or 36 inches of snow at the home place. The cows can come to the house for water - it is a walk of about 1/2 a mile or eat snow. Most only come once or twice a week - sometimes they do not come up for a couple of weeks. Some do not come up at all.

Good thing - because it is a small trough and is for the one old nag left on the place and two small steers that are still on the bottle.

Don't ask!! Wife project - I have no control. I have learned to accept this with a modicum of grace.

They might come in ones and twos - so it is not because the gang is thirsty - I think they just want a change and they come up and reach over the wood divider to take a drink from a trough that they cannot reach very well - it is about 2 gallons before it cannot be reached by them stretching their necks - they stand around in the shelter that is there - sunning themselves mostly and leave. Most days we do not see any come up at all.

Their condition is good and my wife has a seriously reduced work load. She checks them once a day on the snowmobile - takes minutes - probably putting a nice carbon build up on my sled wile I am away.

Unless of course the youngest daughters boyfriend takes it our for a spin - I should start charging rent - on the sled that is!

I am a believer in snow for water and bale grazing - money savers, labour savers, equipment savers and time savers - plus a few more.

It is nice to have a herd of cows that looks good and puts out a pretty calf.

But I will take one that looks average, requires no effort on my part to live through a winter, does not need grain if they have decent hay, drops a live calf on grass or snow in March and licks it off, needs nothing more than being checked on.

Things we watch for when on snow and bale grazing - cows that do not take to the system, cows that appear to be going down on condition. In reality the same things you would do if you were keeping them in a pen at the house. If the feed is straw based - and we have had to do that - we will add some type of protein and some mineral - it helps prevent impaction, helps the cow put out a good calf - similar husbandry things you would do if they were at the house in a pen.

It costs us enough to keep an animal for a year - not many of you out there can do it for under 400 bucks a head - if you are you are doing real good. I suspect most on this board are in the 500 plus buck range if truth were to be told - no squawking - sounds like a lot - but that is only a buck fifty a day to hit the 540 - 550 per year mark - per head! One tractor break down and engine rebuild can put you behind 10 plus thousand - a big hit to the cost of keeping a cow.

And I would not be surprized if many were way higher still.

Unplugging a couple of water heaters that run 24/7 for six months saves a lot of money. Anyone ever price out the cost of using a heater? Not cheap when the average temp stays down below zero. Try unplugging six.

Yeah, that is an all in cost - some of you think you are coming ahead with that tax deduction - but I bet a bunch of you aren't. Hobby or meat? Great - I support it.

However - If you are in it for the money - no excess inputs - no costs - that is the only way to make a buck.

But it works for us in the north. I think we are going to be under 400 bucks a head for the year - it may be close - will not know until March - but I figure we are there right now - so if I get the numbers I will let you know. Fuel costs coming down might be our big saving grace.

And buying in some cheap hay versus making it - we sold our hay as a standing crop and the money difference was noticeable. We did this because fuel was so high I thought it would better to bring in one and two year old hay than it would be to make hay.

Try this system and you too might find it worth your while. Put out some bales - teach them to eat snow and stand back - you will never have an easier winter or more time for that project.

All of the above is strictly my opinion based upon my experience - opinions being like the south end of a north bound cow - everyone has one. So take it or leave it as you see fit folks.

Best to all and regards

Bez+
 

larryshoat

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angie":1xmc9ogp said:
I wouldn't depend on snow to meet water needs on a dare. This has come up before and, as I said then, I don't care what moose and deer do. I think they are much genetically more efficient animals than cattle, they are more resourcful than cattle and I think there are plenty of deer and moose that are compromised by lack of water access in the winter. For sure cattle will go through a pond if allowed access.

I'm with ya on this angie . It sounds like it's done in some areas, but I couldn't sleep at night if I thought my cattle were trying to water themselves with snow .

Larry
 

kenny thomas

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This is great to learn.
Only thing is we have not had a snow in a couple of years. Or at least not enough for a cow to lick.
Here I am trying to make sure they never have to walk over 200 yds. to fresh water.
bez+ could you explain or PM me more about the bale grazing? I totally agree the best way to make money is to save on the inputs. Within reason of course.
 

Bez+

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kenny thomas":3nkub2ww said:
This is great to learn.
Only thing is we have not had a snow in a couple of years. Or at least not enough for a cow to lick.
Here I am trying to make sure they never have to walk over 200 yds. to fresh water.
bez+ could you explain or PM me more about the bale grazing? I totally agree the best way to make money is to save on the inputs. Within reason of course.

I can offer this report from randi:

http://www.pasturemanagement.com/balegrazing.htm

I am not sure how I would do it if there was no snow - it is actually a necessary part of the combination in our prt of the world - but if you do not have snow I would work on stock piled grazing - which might even be cheaper.

Be that as it may - bale grazing - I suspect it would be a lot like controlled or intensive grazing in a pasture - use electric fence and keep them at it until the hay is down - pasture management with bales - probably would work as an intensive grazing style of management - I think I might try it in a couple of fields for a year or two. Cut, rake and bale the hay - and leave it in the field - position it and put electric fence around it - turn the cows in during winter.

I bet you could rig the whole thing up in less than a day once the hay was baled.

I would start researching "bale grazing". THere has been a lot of work done on this in Canada by universities and government ag departments.

All our - north and south of the border - innovation and change comes from survival mode - some works and some does not - but we have to experiment - as it is rare to realize any hand-down of profit from the folks further down the chain in the beef industry.

We all do what we must - if it works for us I sometimes actually put it out there - if others take it up - fine - but there are an amazing amount of folks who will spend needlessly and stay traditional and wonder why they cannot at least break even.

Good luck.

Take care and best regards

Bez+
 

hillsdown

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angie":1e8gmcfo said:
For sure cattle will go through a pond if allowed access.

Every year we hear of a story of cows going through a pond/dugout that had blown/frozen over and they all drown or freeze to death.

Cattle can eat snow, it is done successfully but at a cost. You also need a lot of fresh snow. The links provided are good but for better success talk to someone in your area that does it with your breed of cattle, your age of cattle, and how they feed, this will give you a better idea if you can do it yourself..

If it were me I would move the hay to the cows, you are going to have to check them everyday anyways. Might as well have them close to home. Plus fuel is down in price a b-train to move those bales shouldn't be to much right now.
 

Alberta farmer

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We feed cows up to a mile from home everyday. They usually walk to water at flowing springs everyday but might skip a day if the wind is bad. They seem to decide to all come at once.
Just roll out the hay/ straw with a three point hitch bale unroller. About one hour a day. Tractor is in a heated shop so no problems with starting. Shop is heated by outdoor wood furnace so no expense other than cutting wood in the fall.
I've often wondered about bale grazing but haven't tried it. Stockpile native grass for late fall grazing. Had to start feeding Dec. 14th this year as too much snow but could have made it to January 1st, otherwise.
Sometimes it is a challenge finding a place to feed out of the wind. We have a fair amount of trees.
 

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