Winterize Your Operation

By: Heather Smith Thomas

In northern climates winter is a big deal. Neither your cow herd nor machinery should go into it unprepared. For cattle, make sure they head into winter with extra body fat. They need reserves of energy—a good store of back fat–to draw on to help maintain body heat on cold days. Also, the added insulation (layer of fat under hide and hair) is like a thicker winter coat; they won’t need as many calories of feed to keep warm.

Russ Daly, Extension Veterinarian/Associate Professor, SDSU, says windbreaks and bedding are helpful, along with good nutrition. “The part of the diet we focus on is energy, during cold weather. Protein is really important, too, but energy, especially for weaning-age calves is crucial. Here in the northern plains we also recognize that these animals increase intake in response to cold,” he says.

“We have to be sure we are providing the additional feed they need. For animals with a functional rumen—older calves, adult cattle–having adequate protein to utilize the energy is also important.” Microbes in the rumen break down roughage into useable energy, but they need protein in order to do this.

“Prolonged cold makes it challenging to feed calves enough for weight gain. For mature animals, the best way we can help them respond to cold stress is to feed enough energy and protein—especially as cows get into later gestation—to make sure the unborn calf isn’t shortchanged.” If the cow is putting all her resources into keeping warm, something is shortchanged. Windbreaks and bedding are important for adult cattle (as well as calves), to prevent frostbitten ears or teats, or scrotal frostbite in bulls.

Make sure you can always supply feed and water when temperature drops. This means water sources that keep working, and water that doesn’t freeze up. Where electricity is available this may mean heated water tanks. In extensive pasture situations, innovative water systems may be necessary.

Winter preparedness includes being able to get feed to the cattle—with equipment (feed trucks, tractors, bale processers, etc.) that keeps working during winter. Crop harvesting equipment may sit during winter, but make sure it goes into winter in optimum condition.

Michael Thomas, ranching near Baker, Idaho, has done a lot of custom haying and work with heavy equipment. He recommends changing motor oil when winterizing equipment, to prevent particulate sedimentation. “Over winter the solids in motor oil tend to fall out of suspension and collect in the bottom of the oil pan. This sediment is not easily removed with subsequent oil changes, but may be dislodged under stressful operating conditions later—fouling filters and causing unnecessary wear,” he explains.

“Check engine coolant level and concentration. Use a coolant concentration tester to make sure your engine is protected to the coldest temperature you anticipate. I recommend maintaining a 50/50 ratio of water to coolant year-round. This will protect your engine to -34 degrees F. and will also raise the boiling point and protect your engine under extreme hot temperature operation,” he says.

In regions with extended periods of extreme subzero, a 70/30 coolant to water ratio is recommended. “But this ratio decreases the boiling point and is not recommended for conditions of extreme heat,” says Thomas.

For equipment and trucks that sit for long periods during winter, in addition to maintaining proper levels and mixtures, it is important to drain and replace coolant periodically. “As with engine oil, coolant particulates will precipitate out of solution over extended periods of non-use and can occur after new coolant has been added to the old coolant,” he explains.

“Use a high quality fleet coolant with an anti-electrolysis additive. For heavy trucks, change the coolant filter. Most tap water contains minerals, so whenever possible blend your coolant with distilled water to retard particulate formation and coolant breakdown,” suggests Thomas.

“Clean or replace air filters. Winter moisture can collect in solids within the air filter, causing dirt to solidify. Once dirt cakes, it’s difficult to effectively clean an air filter in the spring without damaging it,” he says.

“Check all belts and hoses for damage and wear. Get a jump on next season and replace the worn ones. After servicing the engine, use water or air to clean crop waste/chaff, dirt and oil/grease from the body and frame. This also gives opportunity to check for cracks/rust and repair damage before next use,” says Thomas.

“Fully grease all fittings. This will push any water or dirt out of the component and fill the void so moisture can’t enter over winter. In areas of high humidity, fill fuel tanks to capacity to prevent excess condensation. Check air pressure in tires to make sure they are properly inflated. Extended under inflation can damage tires, and in the least, cause added labor in spring when you find one flat.”

During inspection of equipment check for seal leaks. “Check wheel seals, transmission, differential, engine, gear boxes, hydraulic motors, etc.” says Thomas. Proper winter prep can prevent deterioration of equipment over winter, and it will be more ready to go next spring.

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