Cold Weather Precautions and Management Tips for Livestock Owners

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The winter season is upon us and animal owners will soon be faced with the challenges of managing livestock under extreme cold in 2015. Many animal owners will remember the winter of 2013-14 and the unusual challenges of caring for outside animals during extended periods of very cold weather. Some forecasters say there will be more cold snaps ahead and that calls for preparations to make sure farm animals have everything they need to stay healthy.

The most immediate need that animals have is for water. While water consumption will decline from those hot days of summer, animals still require water daily.  Any water source can freeze but some devices and structures are more problem free than others. So called frost proof waterers normally will continue to function in the most extreme circumstances but they should be checked daily to make sure there are no frozen pipes, floats or covers. Many farm owners will salvage any watertight container they can find to use as a water source for their livestock and one may see any manner of tubs, buckets, tanks or bathtubs used as a watering point on farms. During periods of unusually cold temperatures hese open top structures will freeze each night and have to be opened daily in order for animals to drink. Fortunately there are stock tank heaters that can be placed in these basins to help keep the water from freezing if electricity is available nearby. Make sure water is accessible and in the case of horses try to provide warm water in winter. Horses are susceptible to any number of digestive disorders and lack of adequate water consumption in winter can lead to expensive treatments. Providing warm water will help improve the daily water consumption of all equines.

Adequate feed and forage is essential to the wellbeing of livestock during winter. Ruminants should have access to plenty of high quality forage and should consume 2-3 percent of their bodyweight in dry matter daily. Their digestive system is designed for them to eat large amounts of roughage in order to obtain the protein, energy and other nutrients they require for good health and productivity. The digestion of this fibrous material generates a great deal of heat to help maintain bodily functions but the hay must be of adequate quality to meet nutritional requirements. A forage analysis can help determine the true nutrient composition of the hay you are feeding. If additional supplementation is required livestock owners can then more precisely decide if they need to purchase a protein or energy source to adequately provide for their herds.

Horse owners may wish to increase the caloric intake of their animals during periods of very cold weather. Additional hay is a safe way to meet the increased dietary requirements during these times. However if the caloric requirement cannot be met with forage alone then grain supplementation may be necessary. Horse owners should be cautious in making sudden or drastic changes to the grain portion of the ration. Introducing grain for the first time or making a significant increase in the daily grain amount can lead to severe digestive upsets. Large amounts of carbohydrates are often the culprit in these situations and starchy feeds should be fed with caution. Fat is a much denser source of calories than carbohydrates and is much safer to feed to horses. Many commercial feed companies have begun to manufacture high fat horse feeds for this reason and they are readily available.

Once the food and water needs have been met then adequate shelter should be addressed. Most livestock species are designed to withstand severe weather and many herds never have need for or access to manmade shelter. As long as animals are in adequate body condition and have the opportunity to stay dry and out of the wind our local winters do not pose too much of a challenge. Animals will seek out natural windbreaks such as draws, gullies or the leeward side of a stand of trees. Barns or sheds can be utilized if available but if not make sure animals have access to natural terrain features to avoid the wind. Wet hair coats increase the level of heat loss in animals in a dramatic way, so extended periods of rainy, cold weather can place excessive stress on animals. Outside of a roofed structure the best way to insulate animals against cold weather is to make sure they have appropriate body condition.  A layer of fat is a great insulator and can be obtained through good feeding practices leading up to the winter months.

More information on winter feeding of livestock can be obtained at your local Cooperative Extension office.

Jeff Carpenter

Agricultural Extension Agent

Written By

Photo of Beth CloningerBeth CloningerCounty Extension Administrative Assistant (828) 465-8240 (Office) beth_rogers@ncsu.eduCatawba County, North Carolina
Posted on Jan 23, 2015
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