3 Essential Steps for Winter Livestock ManagementChris Beerman
Humans have it easy during winter. When we get cold, we can huddle up near a fireplace, put on a warm blanket, and have a hot drink. Access to food and water is also not much of a problem, even in non-ideal situations.
But what about our farm animals? How can we make sure that they stay warm, healthy, and comfortable during the harsh, winter months?
Winter livestock management can be a blizzard or a breeze depending on your level of preparation for the challenges ahead. Follow this guide to secure their lives and comfort during the cold season.
Feed Them More
As the temperature grows colder, the nutritional energy requirement for livestock increases. Cattle subject to temperatures below the lower critical temperature (LCT) need extra energy for maintenance functions.
In general, for every degree drop in Celsius below the LCT, you’ll need to provide 1% additional calories for cows with healthy and dry coats. The requirement increases to 2% for those with wet coats.
The LCT varies depending on their body condition but is usually 15 to 20 C for those with good health.
Since forage is limited, feeding them by hand is ideal but may not be realistic for farms with a lower workforce. Whatever feeding methods you use, just make sure that they’re eating the required amount.
Before the winter sets in, you need to plan, create a budget, and prepare food stocks to avoid shortages. It’s also important to manage your hay supply and storage properly to maintain the quality of the feed.
As important as the food situation, providing plenty of water is essential to keep the livestock healthy during winter. Dehydration can lead to impaction and other illnesses.
Animals not drinking enough are also not eating enough, leading to weight loss.
For many grazing operations, ponds and streams are often the primary sources of water. These sources, of course, can become frozen during winter.
Some think that putting an ax to the frozen ice is enough to provide an adequate water supply to your livestock. But this is a misconception that should be discouraged.
Ponds are usually frozen from within or freeze faster than you can chop them up.
One solution is to use a tank heater to make sure that they have a steady supply of warm, clean water. If heaters aren’t used, you should provide unfrozen water to your animals several times a day.
Shield Them from the Weather
One advantage some animals have over us humans is their thick coats. This means that they’re better equipped to deal with the cold, even if the shelter isn’t quite the level of human standards.
Often, giving them a space that shields them from the winds or during the worst storms is enough. As long as you keep the area dry and clean, your animals will be in relative comfort during the winter season.
Keeping them indoors is not only unnecessary but can often lead to other problems. With overcrowding, the sanitation becomes an issue that can escalate.
Diseases may develop and propagate within the confined space.
Remember These Winter Livestock Management Basics
If you keep in mind these tips on winter livestock management, you’ll be better armed for dealing with whatever crops up. Your animals will be safe, healthy, and most importantly, alive.
For more articles on the different challenges of managing your farm this winter season and how to overcome them, please take a look at our other posts.