Livestock and Cold Weather
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As I write this article the weather forecast for Sunday is for snow or ice or a least a really cold rain. I think now is a good time for a reminder that we need to give our livestock a little extra attention during inclement weather. Animals such as hogs, turkeys, and chickens that are housed in buildings will need some attention but the main focus today is livestock housed outside. Of course, those of you with poultry or hogs outside will want to take some precautions as well.
Cattle will use a shed or shelter if the weather is bad enough but really prefer a windbreak or area of woods to shelter them from the weather. Goats can get by with just a windbreak or wooded area but will definitely use, and prefer, a building or shelter of some sort. Generally, horse owners prefer to give their animals access to a barn or stall during bad weather. While this isn’t absolutely necessary, some protection from the elements is recommended because horses do tend to be a little more sensitive to weather extremes.
Livestock nutritional requirements can increase significantly during cold weather and even more if it’s wet and windy. Each species has their own lowest critical temperature . This is the lowest temperature a dry animal can tolerate without additional energy demands to support normal body temperature. Energy requirements for an animal with a dry, full winter coat increase one percent for every degree the wind chill temperature falls below the lowest critical temperature. Energy requirements increase by two percent for every degree the wind chill temperature drops below the animal’s lowest critical temperature if their coat is wet. The accepted standard for cattle with a dry, full winter coat is 32 degrees Fahrenheit, 18 degrees F if the cattle have an extra heavy coat. That same animal with a wet coat now has a lowest critical temperature of 60 degrees F!
A key point to remember is that all of the species can get through some pretty rough weather with modest shelter as long as they have access to plenty of feed and hay. Ruminant animals produce heat from the digestion of forage. Horses not as much—since they are not ruminants; thus the need for a little more protection. A cow and goat consuming quality forage can generate ample heat to stay warm, especially if they are out of the wind and have somewhere relatively dry to bed down. If possible, provide straw, old hay, or some type of bedding material for your livestock. It may not stay completely dry but will be dryer than the ground currently is and will provide some insulation from the ground. An animal lying on extremely wet ground or bedding can be expected to lose a lot of heat to the cold ground. During times of extreme weather, the addition of some grain to the diet to increase energy intake will help facilitate temperature maintenance.
One other point to remember — water. I’m sure we will all have to bust some ice a time or two this year. We need to realize that just keeping the water flowing may not be enough. If you were living outside in thirty-degree weather, would you want to drink nearly frozen water? Animals may not consume adequate amounts of water when the water is extremely cold. Keep this in mind if you use water hoses or exposed lines and open tanks to water livestock. I know it may be impossible to do anything in some case but there are options for keeping water tanks open and useable. As always, if you have any questions, or you want to debate any points in the article, feel free to call our office, 910-592-7161.