March Comes in Like a Lion: Winter Ranching

Photo by Ken Wright

Here at Glenbow Ranch Provincial Park, land is leased to local 3J Farms, whose cattle play an important role in grassland management. With winter seeming to never end, we asked John Copithorne of 3J Farms how he and his cattle prepare for and manage the long winter months.

John Copithorne and son Ty
Photo by Amy Tucker, Cochrane Eagle

How do you prepare for wintering cattle?

A lot of preparation goes into getting cattle and infrastructure ready for a cold Alberta winter.

In the fall, after the calves are weaned from the cows, we sort off any cattle that don’t look fit enough to endure a harsh winter. The remaining herd is moved to a pasture that has plenty of fresh grass, so that they can build up on body fat reserves before the cold weather hits.

We spend a lot of time working on cattle, waters and equipment in the fall, so that when needed, they hopefully will work as needed.

Getting the necessary amount of feed moved to hay yards close to wintering grounds is also important in the fall.

What are the challenges of looking after cattle in the winter?

The challenges to looking after cattle in the winter vary with temperature and snow amount.

Photo by Harvey Martens

Do you feed them differently?

As temperatures drop the amount of forage an animal needs rises.  An animal’s requirements for temps in the -10c or higher range are about 30-35lbs of forage daily. When the temps get in the -25c or lower and factor in wind chill, these daily requirements can rise to 35-40 lbs daily. The amount of snow can determine if we have to put forage out for the cow daily, or if she can still go graze on grasses for her daily forage needs.

Our biggest challenge if the snow gets too deep and we have to feed the cows daily, is making sure that we can get our feed trucks to the cows through the snow. We are always having to plow snow to keep open passages to the feed grounds.

Making sure that cattle waterers are working as well is a big challenge in -20c and colder temps. Water doesn’t like to stay in a liquid form in those temps!

How do cows stay warm in the winter?

Cows have an unbelievable internal furnace. The key to any furnace is keeping it stoked with good fuel.

Lots of good grass, feed and shelter.  Glenbow Ranch Provincial Park provides plenty of those resources in spades.

Cows in good body condition, with thick hair coats, can endure very cold temps quit comfortably.