Cold weather can have a drastic impact on the performance of cows and calves. In fact, it can have as much of an effect on production as hot weather. Understanding how cattle deal with cold will help understand how to bring cattle through without losing performance or wasting resources.

First, understanding some terminology is important. The thermoneutral zone is the range of temperature where weight gain and efficiency are at their peak. Another way to look at that is when cattle are in their thermoneutral zone, they do not have to expend extra energy to maintain a constant core body temperature.

The lower critical temperature is the point where cattle begin to experience cold stress. In an ideal environment, that temperature is 32 degrees F. But, other factors such as wind and rain make a higher air temperature seem colder to cattle. This is called the effective temperature.

So, a 10-mile-per-hour wind can create cold stress even when the air temperature is 40 F and the cattle have a dry winter hair coat.

The most logical way to combat cold stress is to provide shelter from wind and precipitation. This will allow cattle to realize a higher effective temperature. Building new wind breaks and shelters is likely cost-prohibitive. Planning pasture rotation so that cattle are in areas with shelter during winter months is often a better idea.