Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Winter Livestock Care

Rain, sleet, snow, ice, freezing temperatures – winter can be a real struggle for four legged animals. Most livestock are well adapted to cold weather, but sick, elderly, or young animals and those under unusual stress are more susceptible.

Most livestock can handle wind chills about 20°F without much stress. But, to stay healthy, they need a dry place to escape cold rains, wet snow, and wind.

While natural protection and windbreaks may be adequate, three sided sheds opening away from prevailing winds are best. Allow enough room for livestock to lie down safely without being trampled or smothered. The larger the animal the more room they will need. Good, clean, dry bedding insulates livestock from the cold ground, which draws away body heat.

Food & Water
Feeding good quality hay or alfalfa to ruminants (cattle, sheep, goats, llamas, alpacas) and horses is effective for body heat production during cold weather. Body heat is generated when these animals are digesting these feedstuffs. During cold weather, animals will need to eat more to maintain their body condition.

One of the most important considerations for winter feeding is adequate water. Water is essential for digestion, which produces heat in fiber breakdown. Do not assume that livestock can meet their water needs by eating snow – to get enough water, eating snow would take most of their feeding time. Ingesting large quantities of snow also reduces the core body temperature.

Water above 40°F is ideal to ensure good consumption. Automatic water units are best; if that is not possible, be sure to provide water several times a day. In freezing temperatures, you will need to break ice or provide fresh water periodically if you don’t have a tank heater.

All too often, where there are animals in the winter, there is mud. Feeding in muddy locations increases the amount of feed wastage. Mud makes foot and hoof diseases more likely. Livestock walking on frozen muddy ground are more susceptible to foot and leg injuries. With good management and planning, the negative environmental and animal health aspects of mud can be minimized.

The best winter practice is to make sure that your livestock is in good condition before cold weather hits. Addressing the nutritional, environmental and health needs of livestock in the winter will help to ensure optimal animal welfare and performance.
(By Steve Tonn, UNL Livestock Educator)

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