Keeping livestock safe in cold temperatures

Cattle-in-Snow_LowResEven as the polar vortex loosens its grip on a major part of the U.S., it’s still important to ensure livestock have what they need to stay warm and healthy in winter weather.

One of the most important parts of protecting livestock is ensuring they have the proper shelter and somewhere to get out of the wind and elements. Wet conditions – not only cold – can spell big trouble for livestock such as cattle. Ample dry bedding can help alleviate some of the cold stress by helping insulate the animal from the cold ground. Likewise, it’s vital to monitor livestock for signs of distress or problems, such as lethargy, weakness or excessive shivering, according to the Clemson University Cooperative Extension

“Bedding may not always be necessary for wintering cow herds, but in cases where cattle are wet, bedding is a must,” North Dakota State University (NDSU) Extension beef cattle specialist Carl Dahlen points out in an NDSU article. “The purpose of bedding is to help keep cattle dry.”

Making sure livestock have abundant food and water also is critical. Clemson’s Extension notes that in addition to the dangers from the cold, such as hypothermia, one of the biggest threats to animals outside in extreme cold is dehydration. It also is vital to ensure that water sources not freeze over or that ice is cleared to allow animals, especially young ones, access.

Similarly, it is important to provide extra feed or forage to meet the increased energy demands associated with an animal trying to keep warm in extremely cold temperatures. The temperature of concern with cattle sporting a winter coat is 18°F – any colder and the animals’ bodies begin to require more energy to maintain body temperature, according to NDSU. The extension also suggests feeding animals in the evening or at night, which allows the heat generated by digestion to help combat cold in the overnight hours.

For winter tips for beef cattle, check out this article from NDSU.

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