Do you have enough space for your cattle this winter?

Inclement weather in certain parts of Ireland, over recent weeks, has led to cattle being housed a lot earlier than expected.

However, some farmers, who are lucky enough to be still grazing pasture will be housing animals for the winter over the next few days. It must be noted that farmers in this position are in the minority.

Farmers should have a plan in place as how to best manage their cattle; whether it be cows, weanlings, stores or finishing stock.

Winter housing can be a costly time on a beef farm. But the weight gains made over the winter period, particularly in finishing systems, may be the difference between making a profit or a loss.

Farmers should also pay careful consideration to the size of the shed available, as overcrowding can lead to a significant reduction in animal performance.

According to Teagasc, suckler cows housed in slatted houses require 2.5-3.0m²/cow, while cattle weighing over 275kg require 2.0-2.5m²/animal. Weanlings or cattle weighing under 275kg are required to have 1.2-1.5m²/animal.

Lighter animals (under 275kg), according to Teagasc, that are housed in straw-bedded sheds, require 2.4-3.0m²/animal; heavier cattle (over 275kg) need 4.0m²/head.

In order to get the most live-weight gain from your cattle, over the winter months, it is advisable to group animals in accordance with weight.

This will stop heavier animals bullying lighter animals for space at the feed face. In addition, significant gains can be made in finishing enterprises when all of the animals in a group are the one size.

Source: Teagasc

In spring calving enterprises, dry cows should be grouped on the basis of body condition score (BCS). This allows for each cow’s intake to be monitored and to reduce the incidences of difficult calvings next spring.

Along with an adequate feed space, cattle should always have access to fresh, clean water at all times.

Farmers should ensure that there is a continual flow of fresh air throughout the shed. In addition, draughts should be kept to a minimum to prevent cattle from getting chills.

By making simple modifications, such as removing some of the the side sheeting of sheds, fresh air can be circulated around the shed.


Research has shown that animals perform better in well-ventilated sheds, as they are less like to develop respiratory infections or pneumonia. Animals may not always show signs of pneumonia. However, suspect animals should have their temperature recorded and treated accordingly if needs be.

Allowing weanlings or autumn-born calves to venture outdoors for a period will also help to reduce the risk of pneumonia.

Clipping the back of cattle will help stop cattle overheating and will keep animals cooler, especially in sheds that are heavily stocked. It will also help control lice infestations.