Morgan Watts: Preparing your animals for cold weather

Published 12:00 am Saturday, December 11, 2021

By Morgan Watts
N.C. Cooperative Extension

Most of us know that when it becomes cold, we use more energy. Not only can this be said for us and our home’s energy bill but for our livestock, too, which in return causes more labor and an increase in forage quality. This can be a challenge due to the fact that we have lost hours of daylight. By the time I get off work, it is almost dark which doesn’t leave me a lot of time to get home and get the livestock taken care of. Here are some tips for dealing with livestock in cold weather:

  • Make sure they have access to clean, fresh water. It can be a hassle and time consuming to break frozen water, but it is important that it gets done. Cattle’s water intake does decrease during the cold, but they still need adequate water consumption. Make sure the tanks aren’t frozen and if you are using automatic water, check it daily to make sure it is still performing like it should.
  • Providing shelter is not usually an easy or practical option for a beef herd, but it is important to offer some sort of wind break, whether that be solid or semi-solid fences, trees or brush areas.
  • Make sure you are supplying plenty of nutrients so that your cattle can reach their energy requirements. Cows in good body condition with good winter coats have a critical temperature level of 20 degrees. When the temperature drops below this, you need to provide 1% more energy for every degree it drops. If you have cattle that are thinner or short haired, their critical temperature is 30 degrees. You would need to feed 2% more for every degree it drops below that.

Although I don’t work with dogs and cats, below are some tips from the N.C. State Veterinary Hospital that you may find helpful for those animals. 

Colder weather means it is time to “winterize” your animals. Here are some tips from the N.C. State Veterinary Hospital for keeping your animals comfortable, healthy and safe this winter.

  • Snow can be fun for everyone and daily exercise is necessary for health, but be mindful of the temperature and the time spent outdoors. Fur does not mean complete protection from the cold.
  • Check your dog’s paws for ice around the pads and for irritation from sidewalk and road salt, which can lead to cracked paws, discomfort and possible infection. It’s a good idea to wash the paw pads with room temperature water and smooth petroleum jelly on pads.
  • Be careful on off-leash hikes that your dog does not venture out onto frozen ponds and lakes to break through too thin of an ice cover.
  • Be aware colder temperatures may mean outdoor cats and wildlife find that car engines offer a warm respite.
  • Some manufacturers are changing chemicals used in antifreeze but assume any spills are highly toxic, and even a few licks or walking through the fluid can be deadly.
  • Other potentially dangerous items include windshield washing fluid and ice melt products that can cause gastrointestinal tract irritation, depression, weakness, seizures, cardiac issues and other life-threatening issues.
  • Make daily assessments to ensure horses, livestock and other outdoor animals have appropriate shelter from snow, rain, wind and cold and constant access to fresh, liquid water when the temperature drops below freezing.

If you have any questions about livestock in the cold, please call Morgan Watts at N.C. Cooperative Extension, Rowan County Center at 704-216-8970.

Morgan Watts is livestock and field crops agent with the Rowan County Extension.

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