Cold Weather and Farm Animals

We all worry about the horses and farm animals outside in cold temperatures, and we are in for another cold week.  Horses, cattle, sheep, goats, llamas, & alpacas all tolerate cold conditions well and, without wind, most adult farm animals do not have to expend energy to stay warm when temperatures are 20F and above.  With wind or rain, however, that number increases drastically.  Wind chills can be devastating to pastured animals and rain will rapidly raise the lower critical limit of the thermoneutral zone (the range of temperatures within which your animals don’t have to expend energy to heat or cool themselves) to 60F.

  • Make sure that your animals are in good condition going into cold weather.
    • Healthy weight
    • Free from parasites
    • Comfortable enough to move around to stay warm
  • Wind blocking shelters are critical.
  • Plenty of high quality hay (or high fiber bagged feed if your horse is on a pelleted diet) will help increase heat production via digestion.
    • Hay testing can verify that your hay is adequate for winter feeding.
    • Increasing energy sources like corn and oats does little to help farm animals stay warm, but is sometimes prescribed for thin animals to help them increase their body condition.
    • Fiber sources like beet pulp can be a helpful addition for older horses who can’t chew hay.
  • Water should be heated if possible.
    • Lactating ruminants will not make as much milk as their water consumption goes down and all species drink more when water is warmed to 45F.
    • Older animals with painful teeth, especially horses, drink less when water is very cold and are more likely to develop impaction colic.
  • Young animals cannot tolerate cold conditions well. Rumens (cattle, small ruminants, camelids) and cecums (horses) take time to develop in young animals and so young animals do not benefit from digestion the way older animals do.
    • Blanket calves and all young animals.
    • Animals less than 60 days of age should be brought inside a heated area or heat lamps made available.
    • Monitor attitude, appetite, and weight of all young animals regularly.
  • Blanketing horses is common and clipped horses or horses kept under lights absolutely need them. Most adult horses, however, do not need blankets to stay warm.
    • Blankets will reduce an animal’s natural ability to insulate himself by packing down his haircoat.
    • If you do blanket, remove the blanket daily to check for developing sores, monitor weight, and groom.
  • Beef cattle and all farm animals with outdoor feeders and water sources may depend on snow removal for access to water and feed sources. While they will travel for feed, many animals do not travel for water and instead try to eat snow.  This can lead to impactions in camelids, decreases in milk production in all species, and more difficulty staying warm with mild ongoing dehydration.
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