While the Central Valley isn’t known for its harsh winters, except some occasional hard freezes, it’s always a concern for ranchers and livestock owners to ensure their animals are well-prepared for inclement weather. When driving by pastures or yards where cattle are kept, it’s easy to wonder how the animals are kept warm and dry during cold, rainy days, but rest assured they are comfortable.
Cattle are bred to handle their region’s weather. In the southern regions, bos indicus cattle are more common. These breeds, such as brahman, are heat tolerant and do well in subtropical climates. Bos taurus breeds such as Holsteins and angus, which are common in the Central Valley, are better suited for temperate climates.
Cattle are built to handle cold weather with their naturally thick skin and by growing longer coats when the temperature drops, but there are measures ranchers can take to further protect their animals during harsh weather.
Wintering cattle can be a challenge even in our mild winters because grass isn’t as readily available, so ranchers may implement increased feeding strategies in order to keep their cattle fleshy and at a higher Body Condition Score. Naturally, cattle who have heavy winter coats can withstand temperatures down to 18 degrees, but when temperatures drop lower, they begin to use up more of their stored energy to stay warm and can drop body condition quickly. Ranchers may lay dry bedding down, especially for calves, and more nutrient-dense feed will be provided, so as they metabolize the food, it creates more body heat. Some ranchers build wind barriers and shelters to protect their animals, but not every animal prefers to use these structures. These animals have been bred over centuries to be more tolerant of the outside weather and aren’t as fragile as pets. In fact, they actually prefer colder temperatures.
While calves may need more assistance, and ranchers may keep them and the mothers in specific barns, adult dairy and beef cattle can usually manage inclement weather easily with proper management and care.