When the weather turns extremely frigid new livestock owners often worry about their animals, whether they are horses, cattle, pigs, sheep or goats. Some forms of livestock can survive winter better than others but extra care for all your livestock in the bitterest weather will insure that all make it through in good condition.
Winter weather varies from region to region but any weather that is much colder than normal for your area, especially if it includes some form of precipitation, is a good reason to pay extra attention to your livestock. Temperatures below 40 with rain or any temperatures below or near zero are generally cause for extra concern. A little attention will ensure that every animal has the best chance for survival.
Very young and older animals are at the most risk from extreme cold. Hogs and goats will need the most protection and care as their coats don’t protect them as well from the cold as other livestock. Dairy cattle who are fresh (have milk) are also vulnerable. Horses, sheep and beef cattle that have grown a normal winter coat are the least likely to be severely affected. However all animals benefit from some extra attention in frigid weather.
Animals have two defenses from cold, a layer of fat and a good winter coat. Going into fall animals should be allowed to put on a little weight, especially if winters are often severe in your area. Animals need extra feed in very cold weather just to keep warm; burning calories helps the animal stay warm. Wading through deep snow takes extra energy, as does shivering, which is a way to raise body temperature.
Many people believe that grain products should be increased to keep animals warm but that is not totally true. An increase in the amount of good hay fed and a small increase in any grain or protein feed is the best way to add warmth through feed digestion. If at all possible livestock should have unlimited access to good hay during the coldest weather. Remember that too much grain, even in the winter, can cause serious problems for most animals.
It is especially important to pay special attention to animals low in the herd rank, shy or picked on animals to make sure they are able to get the extra feed they need. These animals will be the first to be affected by the winter weather. Older animals who may have trouble increasing their hay intake should have a senior type ration fed to them that includes processed hay for roughage. In some cases fat, like corn oil, may need to be added to the ration to keep weight up. Consult with a vet if your animal is losing weight despite increased hay feeding.
Although animals will eat snow for moisture it isn't the best way to provide them with water. It causes them to burn more calories to offset digesting the cold snow and some animals won’t eat enough snow to keep well hydrated. Without adequate water animals won’t eat as well and will lose weight and condition. Animals without access to snow will of course need water.
If you do not have heated stock tanks or buckets- and there are all kinds of products on the market to heat drinking water for livestock- you must provide water at least once a day and preferably twice a day. Make sure you provide enough so that all animals can drink their fill. Most livestock enjoy lukewarm water in the winter and it may increase their water consumption if it’s warm.
In most areas of the country laws don’t exist that make shelter mandatory for livestock, including horses, but the conscientious owner realizes that some shelter will keep both his livestock and his bottom line healthy. Animals that get wet lose all the benefit of their insulating winter coat. A cold rain does more harm in 40 degree weather than sunny 20 degree weather. Wind drastically increases the chilling factor of weather as we all know.
Animals that are kept dry and protected from the wind will need less feed, and will not be as likely to suffer from frostbite or illness caused from the cold. They will stay in better condition. This will lower your feed and vet bills in the long run.
At the very least all animals should have access to a three sided shelter with the open side facing away from the prevailing wind. This will keep them dry and reduce wind chill values. If you have many animals two smaller shelters may make more sense than a large one. Make sure that some animals aren't being kept out of the shelter by more dominant animals. Animals will move to the shelters when they are uncomfortable.
Hogs and goats generally need enclosed shelters with dry bedding to stay comfortable. Domestic hogs do not grow much of a winter coat and most goats don’t fare well without good shelters in winter. Dairy animals may suffer frostbite and chaffing to their udders if they are left out in weather below freezing. Newborn animals are also subject to frostbite or may even freeze to death if left outside.
Indoor shelters don’t generally need to be heated. Ventilation must remain good and bedding dry or the moisture and ammonia that build up will cause serious problems. A heat lamp can be used with very young or ill animals in extreme weather, warming a small area.
Owners sometimes use blankets on horses or other animals and these will provide some protection from cold weather. Make sure the animals blanket stays dry. Wet blankets should be removed and the animal brought to a dry location. Blankets should be removed frequently to check for skin problems underneath. Animals with blankets also need to be where they can be monitored to see that they aren’t tangled up and unable to move freely or caught on something.
If horses will be used until they sweat in cold weather they should be dried off before being left in the cold or before a blanket is put back on them. Blankets should be used on horses that will be tied or confined to an area where they can’t move much or get out of the wind. Horses that have their hair clipped for showing or riding should also be blanketed before they are turned out and may even need blankets in the stall when it’s very cold.
The livestock owner should monitor the weather and move his or her animals to a location where they can be cared for should heavy snow or icing be expected. Because these weather conditions may make power go out a plan for storing water and delivering it to animals should be worked out in advance. Make sure you have sufficient feed available for the storm duration and a way to get it to the animals. Animal owners should also check their animals frequently in bad weather looking for signs that they are suffering or about to give birth and have a location prepared so that they can move an ill, injured or birthing animal into it for protection.
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