Winter Animal Care Tips

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Soon, many of us will be buzzing around, busy as ever with holiday preparations and events. With the chilly temperatures and frosty mornings that come this time of year, we need to remember our animals, especially those that live outdoors. Along with the low temperatures and decline in forage growth, comes an increase in calories needed for farm animals to maintain weight, stay warm, and often even to nurse their young. Minimum essentials for our animals are adequate nutrition, whether forage, feed, or both, along with clean water and some type of shelter. With the chilly days we will see more of, being able to provide water instead of a block of ice is critical. Feed and farm supply stores sell stock tank de-icers and other heated buckets that come in handy, particularly with horses. Making an investment in this type of equipment might save you the cost of a vet bill later, or even worse, the loss of an animal as a result of cold weather dehydration. Increased demands for forage, usually hay this time of year, will help keep outdoor grazing animals warm as well as in good condition. The term “hay burner” might often be thought of by the cost of animals eating hay, when in reality it is how the hay is digested. The digestion process of forage will help outdoor animals stay warm.

In addition to meeting nutritional needs in the winter, it’s a good idea to be familiar with body condition scoring. Regardless of the score, the bottom line is to recognize when an animal is in condition, or is too thin, or too fat. Condition not only affects nutritional status, but also influences rebreeding after giving birth. If reproductive efficiency is important to you, then maintaining BCS should be too! Body condition can be evaluated in a number of locations, including the shoulder, neck, back, ribs, hooks or hip area, pin bones, and tail.

Body condition should be assessed frequently enough to make changes and see a difference before the next scoring if animals are out of condition. At a minimum, score animals as the seasons change or when handling for vaccination, pregnancy testing, and other procedures. Animals that are out of condition are prone to several problems. Under conditioned animals will have problems conceiving when re-bred. Milking adequately and providing the nutritional needs of their young will also be affected. Over conditioned animals may also have reproductive and lactation problems.

For more details on body condition scoring, or for tips on meeting their nutritional needs in the winter, give us a call at the Sampson County office at 910-592-7161. For those of you who are not in the livestock business but curious about maintaining the body condition of your companion animals, your veterinarian can advise you and many veterinary clinics display or offer score charts for dogs and cats. We need to make sure our companion animals are warm and healthy too! Best wishes for a happy and healthy holiday season, and to keeping our animals’ body condition in check throughout the winter months.