Winter time is here. Managing livestock during cold weather may require some planning. Checking the forecast and planning ahead, feeding hay and supplementation to meet the livestock's needs during cold, wet days is important. Water supplies may also need attention during that time.
On the farm, dealing with cold weather is something many deal with in their everyday business. Check water troughs to make sure water is not frozen and livestock have access to a good, clean supply. It may require heaters in the trough, or in some cases actually breaking the ice layer to insure livestock - especially in and around the barn or home - have access to water. Farm ponds and streams can freeze, but this is not common in our part of the world on a daily basis.
Cold temperatures may reduce water consumption. Frigid drinking water reduces water consumption as well. Restricted water consumption results in reduced feed intake of the livestock species.
Colic is a winter health concern for horse owners. Grazing horses are less susceptible than those kept in stalls. Feed extra-long stem hay. When feasible, feed twice daily. Adult horses will drink 10-plus gallons of water daily. Maintaining water intake is a critical component of colic avoidance and essential for proper digestive function.
Cold, wet winter days may increase the nutrient requirements for our livestock species.
Provide enough hay and feed to ensure the livestock species have enough energy to get through the coldest days. Livestock can tolerate cold days with adequate forage and supplementation. Cold, wet days are harder on these livestock species. It may require us to provide extra hay, supplementation or even allow them to get into areas with some cover to aid in staying dry during cold, wet days.
Nutritional needs of livestock vary in each cow herd. Lactating cattle have a higher nutrition requirement than dry cattle. Maintaining body condition is important, too. Cattle in winter months, especially older cattle, should have a body condition score of 5 or higher. Younger cattle should have a body condition score of 6 or higher. It is much easier to maintain body condition on cattle than try to have them gain weight during cold, winter months.
Primary consideration should be given to the livestock at greatest risk - the old, newborns and those in thin condition. With their winter haircoat and shelter from the north wind, most livestock can fare well. However, a wet haircoat provides little insulation against the cold. Animals with thin flesh and newborns have minimal fat, or insulation, under their skin and are especially vulnerable. Move livestock to easily accessible pastures that contain shelter from the wind and precipitation, if possible.
Dr. Ted McCollum, professor and Extension beef cattle specialist in Amarillo, said the degree of coldness makes a difference when it comes to livestock. If the temperature threshold for a cow with a wet hair coat is a 50-degree wind chill, every degree below that threshold increases maintenance requirements by 1 percent to 2 percent, he said. So if that cow is comfortable at a 50-degree wind chill, but it's a 35-degree wind chill, her maintenance requirements are 15 percent to 30 percent higher than on a day when she wasn't wet.
If forage for cattle, sheep and goats is in short supply or covered with snow or ice, provide enough hay for them to eat their fill at least once a day. Forage digestion will generate heat, so if possible, feed livestock in the late afternoon to take advantage of this internal heat during the colder nighttime temperatures.