The environment we provide livestock projects in winter has plenty of similarities and differences depending on which animals we are caring for. Two main things to think about for all animals is providing a shelter that blocks the wind and is dry.
That "takes my breath" feeling you get from a cold winter wind is also felt by livestock. The harder the wind blows, the colder it feels. Temperature and wind speed are used to calculate the windchill. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) defines windchill as the cooling effect of wind on exposed skin.
Cattle, horses and sheep have much less exposed skin since they are covered with hair and wool, and can handle cold and lower windchills. Pigs, goats and poultry do not have the amounts of protective hair or feathers needed to deal with extreme cold. These animals need extra shelter from the wind to maintain their warmth such as a hut, shed or barn to go into during extreme cold.
All animals benefit from a dry shelter as well. Huts, sheds and barns should have dry bedding such as shavings or straw. Outside shelters, like wind breaks, should also have a dry area and allow any rain or melting snow and ice to drain quickly.
Food and Water
Food and water is necessary everyday, but is very important during cold. Food provides energy for animals to produce their own body heat to stay warm. Feeds should be high in energy sources to help animals maintain their own body temperature. Livestock may even need extra feed to be able to stay warm and continue to grow or produce milk and eggs during extreme cold.
Water is important for helping livestock to maintain body temperature and digest the feed they eat. Water turns to ice at 32 degrees. Making it available is important. There are several ways to do this.
Trading water buckets twice a day is an easy way to provide fresh water to animals. Start with an empty bucket and fill with water in the morning. It takes some time for a full bucket with 3 to 5 gallons of water to freeze, giving animals time to take a good drink. Then in the evening, trade the now icy or frozen water bucket for a new one with fresh water. Put the frozen bucket some place it can thaw and drain. A bathtub is a good choice.
Electric bucket and tank heaters can also be used to keep drinking water from freezing. These heaters work well, but must be checked to make sure they are not producing a shock. If an animal ever gets shocked drinking from a bucket or tank, it may never trust the water from there again. Inspect all electric bucket and tank heaters before using them.
Ponds and outdoor water sources like large stock tanks are hard to keep from freezing over. A shovel and some other tool to break the ice to get to the water is usually your only option. If the water is too frozen to even break open, provide water in a smaller tank or buckets until the weather warms up.
Other Things to Consider
Some animals are showing during the winter months and grooming may include removal of hair or wool. Blanketing animals is vital since the natural amount of hair or wool they would have during winter is gone. Make sure the blanket is warm enough and fits the animal properly. Also be on the look out for things that may snag, cut or hang up on the blankets. Not only will this damage the blankets, but may cause an animal to panic and hurt themselves if they feel stuck or trapped in the blanket.
Keep bedding clean as well as dry. Dry bedding is a great way to keep animals warm, but can also absorb urine and hide manure. If you are going to use beddings like shavings and straw, change it out regularly to keep it a clean place for your animals.
Fresh air is important when animals are brought into barns and sheds during extreme cold. Closing all the doors and windows may help keep it warm, but does not allow for fresh air to replace stale air. If you go into a barn and your nose or eyes are burning a little, then fresh air is needed. If your barn has a vent fan, turn it on and crack a window or door to allow the flow of fresh air during the warm part of the day. Otherwise open the door for a short time while you feed, water and do chores to allow fresh air in.
I hope these suggestions will help you and your livestock get through the winter in good condition. Remember there are positives to all the seasons. At least the flies are gone!
Kit Carson County
Golden Plains Area
Colorado State University Extension