Most of us self-reliant folks would probably say we know how to keep our animals warm, but there are ways to make sure livestock do not endure frostbite and maintain adequate body weight during those bitter winter months.
Shielding all livestock from the wind is crucial. Investing in a permanent windbreak is necessary for keeping livestock out of the wind, especially if there are no natural windbreaks like trees. And while shelter requirements vary between species, a windbreak will help animals maintain their natural desire to be outside while also keeping them from getting sick.
Here are some other important things to do to ensure your animals get through the winter safe and healthy.
Increase Feed Amount And Frequency
Feeding animals at night keep them warm because of heat produced from digesting food peaks a few hours after consumption. Increasing the amount of feed can also help prepare livestock for the cold because a higher nutrient quality in the feed means more energy.
Colorado State University Extension Service says feed will help livestock maintain body temperature, and that having a supply of good quality forages like alfalfa or grass hay goes further rather than having extra rations of grain.
Eating for heat is also the key to keeping your animals warm. Roughage is fermented in the rumen, creating heat for the animals from the inside out. Roughage that keeps rumen warm includes hay, silage, beet pulp shreds and grass. For birds like chickens and turkeys, cracked corn is perfect in helping them generate more body heat. Keeping your poultry warm and happy during the winter season helps in maintaining their laying consistency regardless of the cold.
Provide Warm Hydration
Humans know that drinking lots of water in hot weather is very important to avoid dehydration. Giving livestock clean drinking water in cold weather is equally important. Most animals tend to drink less water in winter when the water is very cold or icy. Only desperate sheep or goats will eat ice or snow for hydration. For these two species, it is essential to provide a source of warm to moderately cold water at all times in the winter. The easiest way to do this is to have heated buckets or other types of water heating devices in the barn. Don’t forget to keep your water buckets and troughs clean in the winter. Goats don’t like dirty water so keeping everything clean and fresh is important.
Snow And Ice
Packed snow and ice should be removed from your pet’s paws and wiped from your pet’s legs, stomach and ears immediately. Prolonged exposure of skin to snow or ice caught in a pet’s coat can cause frostbite. Salt and de-icer agents spread on sidewalks and roads can be irritating and potentially cause sores to your pet’s feet. Using pet-friendly ice melts can help minimize this hazard. After walks, rinse and thoroughly dry your pet’s feet or use waterproof pet boots to limit contact.
Frostbitten skin is red or gray and may slough. If your pet is experiencing frostbite, do not rub the affected area, rather, apply warm (not hot), moist towels to thaw out frostbitten areas slowly until the skin appears flushed. Contact your veterinarian immediately for appropriate medical treatment of your pet’s frostbite wounds.
Insulation And Ventilation
Insulation is a huge luxury, but a necessary one for the kids’ sweet little 4-H meat goats. Depending on how important goats are to your family or your profitability, insulating a barn is an ideal way to keep goats warm in the coldest of winters.
And just as you might think insulating and closing up the barn is the finite answer, don’t forget about opening it up to allow good ventilation. Because warm air rises and cold air sinks, a layer of cold air on the barn floor can accumulate toxic gases like ammonia from animal waste. Proper ventilation helps to move the cold, smelly air out and push the warm air from the barn ceiling down to the animals’ level. Be careful, though, to watch for drafts. Exposure to drafts can make the animals more likely to develop pneumonia. Ventilation is good, drafts are bad.
Provide Warm And Dry Bedding
Giving cattle, hogs, sheep and goats a dry place to lie down is also essential. Moisture, in combination with cold temperatures, can be deadly, especially for newborn livestock. If there is moisture, livestock can suffer from frostbite and freezing, especially during sub-zero weather. Bedding must be available to help livestock stay dry and help insulate them from the ground.
The winter is halfway done, but it’ll get colder before it’s over. I give a salute to all of you self-sustaining Survivors out there who brave the cold to take care of your animals. It’s a harsh but inevitable reality of raising livestock. Your dedication will reward you in spring, and hopefully, you’ll have new babies to add to your current numbers.
Keep warm this winter, Survivors.