Winter Livestock Care Tips

Care for livestock in cold climates like Wisconsin requires some attention to those basic needs for water, food, and shelter as your animals cope with the additional physical stress that winter weather brings us all. While most animals are very well adapted to handle cold weather, ensuring that they have adequate water, appropriate feed amounts and some shelter from wind, cold rains or wet snow will ensure that your animals handle winter conditions with no ill effects. Keep in mind that very young, sick or very old animals may require even more attention to their special care needs. Water Water is the first essential nutrient and adequate water intake is just as critical in winter as it is in hot weather. Water is needed for proper digestion and utilization of feed nutrients, especially of fibers, which are a source of heat as digestion occurs. While animals can and do eat snow, this is not recommended as a sole water source, especially in extremely cold conditions. To ensure adequate intake, water should be above 40° F., so some type of heated system is recommended and available free choice through an automatic watering system or several times per day if watered manually.  Water consumption varies based on temperature, size of animal, feed intake and production status. Table 1 lists estimated water needs for various livestock. Table 1 Basic Livestock Needs for Water and Shelter

Species Water Needs,  Gallons/day* Resting Space Needs, Ft2 Per adult animal
Cattle 7-12 50-80
Goats 1-4 10
Hogs 6-8 8-16
Horses 8-12 80
Llamas 2-5 12-20
Poultry Up to 1 3-8
Rabbits Up to 1 3-8
Sheep 1-4 8-12

*Lactating animals will require even more water than estimated here. Shelter Protection from wind, cold rains and wet snow conditions is a second requirement. This may be provided by natural barriers/windbreaks or buildings and can be relatively low cost. If housing is provided, the building available should provide adequate space for multiple animals to lie down without being trampled or disturbed. Table 1 lists recommended resting space needs for various livestock. Where bedding is provided (indoors or outside), make sure it is kept as clean and dry as possible. Buildings should be designed with adequate natural and/or artificial ventilation to handle the animals housed to prevent health issues due to moisture, vapors or drafts. Access to the outdoors is desirable as most livestock will choose to be outside during all but the most inclement weather during the winter. Animals that are primarily kept indoors will not develop as heavy a winter coat and may need more protection than those that spend most of their time outdoors. Small animals such as rabbits or poultry may need supplemental heat or protection, as will very young animals to prevent too much heat loss and even frostbite. Any animal that is shivering needs additional warmth, but very hypothermic (cold) animals will often stop shivering and need immediate attention. Avoid large temperature changes (from very cold to very warm) as these conditions can cause pneumonia. Feeding Of course, animals should always receive proper feed adjusted for their production needs, but in winter, it is especially critical to have adequate amounts available and replaced on a regular schedule, since food is the “fuel” that keeps the metabolic fires going. In addition to having adequate feed available, make sure that there is sufficient access to feed for all animals so that younger or more timid animals do not get forced away from their rations. For livestock that primarily eat forages, extra rations of grain are less effective than having a sufficient supply of good quality forages such as alfalfa or grass hay available at all times, since fiber digestion produces body heat for these types of livestock. If animals are cleaning up everything quickly after feeding and have nothing to munch on until the next meal, you may not be putting enough forage out at a time to meet their extra needs during very cold weather. Inventory your forages and make sure you have some extra amounts of higher quality forages available for those cold snaps that may last several days to supplement your regular feed rations. Part of your overall autumn small farm management plans should also include making sure that your animals are prepared for winter conditions by having them in good body condition prior to cold weather through proper feeding in late summer through fall. Assessing your winter feed and shelter needs should also be done before winter weather settles over Wisconsin to ensure that your animals will be comfortable, well-fed and healthy. If you need more specific information or ideas on preparing your livestock and farm for winter, please contact your local county extension office.

Author: Rhonda Gildersleeve

Agriculture Agent, Iowa County UW Extension

Originally Published: The Weekend Farmer, Winter 2006/07