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Considerations for Livestock

Is your land productive enough to support the number (and types) of animals you want to raise?

Overgrazing is a serious issue often seen on small acreages. Grasses do not grow as well at higher elevations as they do at lower elevations. Nevertheless, livestock still eat just as much (if not more). We often see people putting more animals on their land than the land can actually support. Overgrazing can lead to loss of soil moisture and stability that results in soil erosion and land degradation. Overgrazing can also lead to an increased noxious weeds due to lack of competition from native vegetation.

Do you have a source of water for your livestock?

Water is the most important nutrient when it comes to animal health and wellbeing!

Do you have the facilities to trap your animals (a corral)?

Animals will inevitably get hurt or need to be confined at some point.

Do you have shelter for your animals? 

Animals, like humans, need shelter from the elements (especially the wind). Livestock do not need a fully insulated, state-of-the-art, heated barn. In many cases, a three-sided structure (preferably with a roof), a hill, some trees or willows, or a solid fence provides enough protection from cold winter winds. Reducing winter wind exposure is a definite MUST, so be sure to orient your barns and buildings based on your prevailing winds.

Are you wanting to get an agricultural tax exemption by raising livestock?  

Refer to the Ag Classification and Taxation section on the previous page for more information. Remember, pleasure horses do NOT count as livestock for ag classification.

 Are you prepared for the cost of raising livestock?

Raising livestock costs a lot of money. Besides the initial cost of the animals, you have to buy feed, pay veterinary bills, and own or rent equipment to manage your stock, among other expenses.

Do you have the proper fencing for your designated species of stock?

Coyotes, foxes, mountain lions, bears, and domestic dogs all prey on livestock in Middle Park. If raising cattle, your most vulnerable time of year will be during calving season. Goats, sheep, and poultry are more susceptible to predation year-round due to their size. Keeping your fences well-maintained, locking your smaller and more vulnerable stock up at night, and installing noise or light deterrents will decrease your chances of predation. Keep in mind that a bear’s nose is 100 times more sensitive than ours, so they can smell food five miles away. Bears are very smart and have great memories; once they find food, they will likely come back for more. The same can be said for other predators as well. Refer to the Minimizing Conflicts section for more information on livestock owners’ rights regarding domestic dogs harassing livestock.

For questions on livestock brands, livestock inspections, or lost and stolen livestock, call the Colorado Brand Inspection Division (contact info is on page 3), or visit this link for a map of local Brand Inspectors.

If you have children and you want to get them involved in 4-H (a youth organization where they can learn to raise and show livestock), contact the Grand or Summit County Extension Offices. NOTE: 4-H projects are not limited to livestock. There are many general and home economics projects available as well.

For information on Backyard Chicken Coops, check out these resources: Keeping Layers for the Family Egg SupplyHome-Produced Chicken Eggs

See the Fencing For Wildlife section for info on building livestock fences that are also wildlife-friendly.  While research on the use and viability of Virtual Fencing (“Vencing”) for livestock in the high country continues, this is a potential wildlife-friendly fencing option to keep in mind for the future.

Helpful ‘Decision Tools’ from CSU Extension on Ranch Management,

Winter Care of Livestock

Are you prepared for raising livestock in the winter?

Wintertime presents unique challenges for all of us, including our animals. Energy demands are higher during winter due to the colder temperatures and snowfall. Livestock with more hair will stay warmer than those with minimal hair (i.e. beef versus dairy cattle). Consider breeds that originate from colder climates rather than tropical areas. Purchasing animals locally (or from similar locations) means they will already be adjusted to our climate and elevation. For poultry, choose breeds that have smaller combs and wattles to prevent freezing. Consider insulating the coop and keeping a light on for heat during subzero nights. Livestock are designed to be able to live outside and survive most weather conditions. Most cold-tolerant livestock can survive temperatures as low as 20-32°F without needing increased energy intake, IF THEY ARE DRY. However, if they get wet, they may only be able to tolerate temperatures as low as 60°F without extra nutrition. If you add wind into the equation, it is even more critical. For every 2°F drop in wind chill temperature, livestock energy/feed requirements go up by 1%.

Be sure to provide them plenty of quality forage to meet the added caloric requirement.

You should get your hay tested so you know its nutritional value. You may realize that you need to increase your feed’s “nutrient density” by adding more nutritionally dense grains and pellets. See Hay Testing section for more information. Don’t forget to supply salt and mineral to your stock. Insufficient supply of essential minerals could result in potentially fatal nutrient deficiencies.

Water is critical to all living beings.

Livestock daily water requirements range from 3 gal/day for sheep to 14+ gal/day for cattle. They cannot meet their requirements from forage or snow alone. Moreover, consuming snow and ice lowers their body temperatures, making them more vulnerable to problems. They need fresh, unfrozen, slightly-warmed water (35-40°F). Stock tend to drink less when the available water is cold, so dehydration then becomes a concern. You can use tank heaters to help keep stock tanks clear of ice and slightly warmed.

Young, geriatric, and small animals are especially vulnerable to the cold.

Providing them extra bedding and protection is important. If you are lambing or calving when it is cold outside, make sure the mothers have access to a well-protected area with plenty of bedding for warmth. Also, do your best to get newborns dried off as quickly as possible after birth.

If possible, build shelters and other buildings on south-facing slopes.

This is where temperatures tend to be higher and moisture content tends to be lower and snow melts off quicker. If your livestock are located a considerable distance from the house, have equipment ready to plow a path and provide livestock the ability to move around. When the snowpack gets deep, your fences may get buried, making it easier for livestock to walk out of their enclosure. Keep your fences in good repair and check for areas that could allow animals to escape.

Consider building living snow fences and using trees for the benefit of livestock.

Wildlife also lack available forage in the wintertime.

Thus, they (specifically elk) often capitalize on any easy-to-get forage they can find. This will sometimes include foraging on haystacks and with livestock in their winter pastures. Consider fencing in haystacks and feeding at a time of day that minimizes elk interaction. It might be tempting to feed wildlife in the dead of winter, but you should leave that to the Colorado Parks and Wildlife professionals. Wildlife can also spread communicable diseases to livestock, and fighting over feed could result in injury (with the elk coming out on top).

Livestock Waste Management

Manure can be a valuable resource but can also be a source of water pollution, odor, flies, parasites, and other nuisances. If not properly managed, manure can contaminate drinking water; be harmful to wildlife; and reduce property values. Mud and manure can also cause abscesses, thrush, respiratory issues, and other diseases in livestock. Last but not least, lost nutrients (through erosion, water run-off, volatilization, and even leaching) can contribute to water pollution. By adopting simple and low cost Best Management Practices (BMPs) for storing, handling, managing, and utilizing manure, the health of the ranch, its animals, and the environment will benefit.

Best Management Practices (BMPs) for Manure Management

  • Divert clean water away from manure:
    • Construct berms or terraces and use downspouts to divert clean water.
  • Ensure manure discharge will not enter a water body or leave the property:
    • Collect manure frequently.
    • Limit animal access to ponds, streams, ditches, and wetlands.
    • Stockpile manure at least 100’ outside a floodplain.
  • Protect groundwater:
    • Locate manure storage piles and livestock corrals at least 150 feet from wells.
    • Use a 150-foot buffer around wells when applying manure to land.
  • Reduce nuisances like flies and odor:
    • Stockpile manure downwind from barns and 200 feet away from neighbors.
    • Remove manure from corrals and pens often to prevent flies, parasites, and worms.
    • Cover fresh manure in stockpiles with at least 5” of clean bedding, straw, or hay.
  • Disposal Options:
    • Dispose off-site to a landfill or hire someone to remove and dispose of manure.
    • Compost manure. This requires the right ratio of carbon (bedding) and nitrogen (manure).
      • Try a 30:1 Carbon to Nitrogen ratio. Then, water the pile to keep it moist, and aerate the pile regularly.
    • Spread manure in spring or summer. Test the manure and your soil for nutrient compositions. Then, spread manure according to the test recommendations. Try not to overfertilize. Unused nutrients can pollute water bodies and groundwater.

Other Handy Resources on Manure

Manure Management for Livestock 4-H Projects:

 Small Acreage Management:

Best Management Practices for Manure Utilization:

Poisonous Plants

If you are pasturing livestock, be aware that a number of plants are toxic to animals. Many of these are native plants and are not considered noxious weeds, but they may be undesirable in grazing situations and hay meadows. Other poisonous plants are listed as noxious weeds and should be managed for that reason. Some poisonous plants cause incurable symptoms and even death. If you are a livestock owner, you should inspect your pastures before turning animals out to graze; watch for unusual behavior; and consult a veterinarian as soon as you suspect poisoning. Be sure to collect samples of suspected poisonous plants for positive identification.

Many poisonous plants have an unpleasant taste that animals avoid, BUT, if all other forage is gone, they may eat the poisonous plants and even develop a taste for them. For this reason, you should use Proper Grazing Management to remove livestock before all other available forage is gone. You do NOT have to avoid a pasture that has poisonous plants in it IF you are careful and proactive about grazing management. 

Also, not all species of poisonous plants are poisonous to all types of livestock.

Some known poisonous plants include:

  • Senecio (Senecio spp.)
  • Yellow star thistle (Cenaturea solsticialis)
  • Houndstongue (Cynoglossum officinale)
  • Locoweed (Oxytropis lambertii, sericea,
  •   Astragalus molissimus)
  • Virginia creeper (Parthenocissus quinquefolia)
  • Some sages (Artemisia frigida, A. ludoviciana)
  • Russian knapweed (Acroptilon repens)
  • Chokecherry (Prunus virginiana)
  • Larkspur (Delphinium spp.)
  • Monkshood (Aconitum spp.)
  • Lupines (Lupinus spp.)
  • Hairy vetch (Vicia villosa)
  • Nightshades (Solanum spp.)
  • Death Camas (Anticlea elegans)
  • Flixweed (Descurainia Sophia)
  • Two-grooved milkvetch (Astragalus bisulcatus)
  • Poison hemlock (Conium maculatum)
  • Field bindweed (Convolvulus arvensis)
  • Wild Mushrooms (many types; also poisonous to pets)

Check out Colorado State University’s Guide to Poisonous Plants Database for PHOTOS:

Colorado Mushrooms Website:

Hay Testing

All animals have basic nutritional requirements that vary based on their age, work demand, and physiological state (maintenance, growing, pregnant, lactating, or geriatric). By testing your hay, you will have the knowledge to actively manage your animals’ nutritional needs like never before.

The most basic Forage Analysis will test for Moisture, Crude Protein (CP), Acid Detergent Fiber (ADF), and Neutral Detergent Fiber (NDF). Total Digestible Nutrients (TDN) and Net Energy (NE) are calculated values based on Protein and Fiber results. ALWAYS LOOK AT THE DRY MATTER BASIS COLUMN!!! Crude Protein (CP) is a measure of Nitrogen and is commonly used as a standard for gauging protein requirements for animals. 

Higher Crude Protein values are better.

ADF is a measure of feed digestibility, while NDF is a measure of feed intake and satiation. Lower values are better for both ADF & NDF!

The value for TDN is the sum of all the digestible nutrients in a feedstuff and is used as a common measurement for Energy. TDN is especially useful for roughage-based diets. Net Energy (NE) also estimates energy but is more applicable to concentrate-based diets (grains and pellets). Values for TDN and NE are calculated from ADF. With either TDN or NE, higher values are better!

In general, forages that contain less than 70% NDF and more than 8% crude protein (on a Dry Matter basis) will contain enough digestible protein and energy to maintain mature, ‘maintenance’ animals during the summer. growing, gestating, lactating, AND GERIATRIC (REALLY OLD) animals have higher nutrient requirements. See the Winter Feeding section for more info on winter feed requirements.

Feed Supplements

When deciding whether or not to supplement your stock, the answer depends on the physiological state of your animals and the climate where you live. Growing, late gestation, lactating, and geriatric animals have higher nutritional needs than early gestation and maintenance animals. Furthermore, winter puts extra energy demands on livestock.

When feeding hay, the main nutrients you need to look at are Crude Protein and Total Digestible Nutrients. Crude Protein needs to be at 7% or higher to maintain rumen health. If your hay is below that value, you NEED to supplement extra protein. Total Digestion Nutrient requirements start at about 50% for mature, ‘maintenance’ animals. However, as winter sets in and gestation progresses, both Crude Protein and Total Digestible Nutrient requirements will go up and could exceed 12% CP and 70% TDN. It is hard to put a definitive value on either of these nutrients because there is no set standard for nutrient requirements relating to climatic factors. For example, there is nothing that says 0°F and wind chill of -10°F requires 11% crude protein and 65% total digestible nutrients.

The BEST way to see if your animals are meeting their nutritional requirements is to watch their body condition. If they start to lose body condition or weight, you likely need to supplement with protein or energy (or both). Extra tip: If you are raising mother cows, it may be wise to save your higher quality hay for feeding later in the winter because that is when your cows’ nutritional demands are the greatest (due to late gestation pregnancy).

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References: 1, 8, 36, 43, 45, 47

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