How to Care for Your Livestock During the Winter

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When the weather starts to change and the evenings become chilly, we start thinking of ways to get through the coming winter. If you own livestock, you know that winter can present lots of challenges when it comes to looking after your animals.

Caring for livestock during winter is completely different from other seasons. You need to ensure they have plenty of protection, food, and care.

This guide has everything you need to know about caring for your animals during the cold season to ensure they’re comfortable and happy.

1. Water

Unlike humans, animals don’t retreat to a warm house with running water during the winter. As their owner, you will need to manage their wellbeing throughout the cold season by regulating water temperatures so that their water source doesn’t freeze.

Fresh, clean water is the most important factor to keep your livestock happy during winter. If temperatures get really low, you may face frozen buckets of water. Since water is essential to life, you need to figure out how to keep your livestock hydrated during the winter.

If you don’t have a constantly flowing source of water like a river or stream that doesn’t freeze over, the only way to avoid frozen water is to invest in tank heaters, automatic waterers, or heated buckets that keep the water at a moderate temperature to make sure your animals have plenty to drink and don’t get dehydrated.

If you decide to use tank heaters or heated buckets that use electricity, you should check them regularly to ensure that the electricity isn’t malfunctioning, which could result in electrocution in the wrong circumstances, as happened to several horses in Utah a few years back. It’s always smart to keep a multimeter on hand to test your electrical equipment.

In case you are doubtful about how much water your livestock should get each day, you can browse this chart to find out recommended amounts for cattle, pigs, sheep, and horses.

Don’t forget to keep water quality in mind. If your animals have to make do with dirty, muddy, or contaminated water, they’ll need a lot more than normal to survive. Better to ensure that you provide them with clean water, even if that means hauling the water to them daily, or providing tank heaters or heated buckets.

2. Shelter

To be able to keep your animals warm, you need to give them shelter. The type depends on what kind of livestock you own and how cold it gets in your region, as some animals keep themselves warm with their own coats. For instance, Icelandic sheep and horses do just fine outdoors even though they live near the Arctic Circle. But they have extremely thick coats.

Many breeds of horses don’t need any additional care if you’ve let their coats grow long so long as give them a spot where they can get away from extreme weather. Something as simple as a shelter with at least one closed side might be enough.

But shaved horses, chickens, some breeds of cattle, and some goats need extra protection, especially if you live in a region that gets particularly cold.

The most important part about providing winter shelter is making sure it is accessible for the livestock.

You don’t want to make it too warm, either, as that’s not healthy for the animals.

So, what is good for shelter?

There are a few things to consider when it comes to housing for your livestock during winter.

Air

You may want to try to seal things up as tight as possible, but ventilation is important when the weather gets colder. However, your air source will differ depending on the type of building you have. For barns, ridge vents are ideal. Although, if you have an older barn you may want to consider opening doors for better circulation at different parts of the day.

If there is not adequate ventilation then your livestock may develop lung problems such as pneumonia. A good sign of poor air circulation is condensation on the walls or roof, so it is important to look out for these signs before the problem gets worse.

Dry Bedding Spaces

It is essential that your animals have dry spaces to sleep in as it allows their bodies to rest as they don’t need to use extra energy to keep warm. A few examples of what you could use are straw, wood shavings, and hay.

You just need to make sure that whatever material you use, it’s dry.

3. Feed

Of course, animals need plenty of feed to keep them going throughout winter.

However, every animal is different and requires different amounts of food. Therefore, before winter begins it is a good idea to assess each animal to see what they will need over winter. It is also vital that you check on them regularly over the cold months in case you have to adjust feeding amounts.

Ultimately, you just want to be sure that your livestock is getting enough food and are keeping healthy!

4. Avoid Mud in Winter

Knowing what to avoid doing in winter can be equally as important as knowing what to do. That’s why you should be aware of a few things that can cause problems in winter for your livestock.

As weather conditions get worse, the ground becomes more difficult to navigate for the animals as mud develops more frequently on the ground making it hard to move across. Not only is this dangerous, but it can lead to some health problems.

Mud can cause abscesses and thrush on the hooves of your animals, which is why it is even more important to maintain good foot care over winter to double-check if this develops.

What to look out for:

  • Itching and scratching 
  • Foot chewing 
  • Rash
  • Bad odor

If you spot any of these signs, it’s best to get checked by a veterinarian.

To help eliminate muddy spots, you can cover the area, put a thick layer of gravel, or lay down straw in the area.

5. Health Issues to Look Out For

While these health issues can strike anytime, it’s extra important to watch for them in the winter.

Lice

Lice can attack in winter as they like to hide in animal coats to hide from the sun. This is another reason to check through the coats of your animals during the cold season.

Trim Hooves

This is more of a safety precaution, but it is vital that you trim the hooves of your animals so they don’t slip on the ice or snow.

Vaccinations

Before winter starts, you should make sure all your animals have the appropriate vaccinations. This will give them even more protection over winter.

Keep Your Livestock Cozy This Winter

Looking after livestock in winter can be challenging, especially if it is your first year doing so. However, with this guide, you have all the information you need to keep them healthy and happy during the long, cold days.

Apart from this list of things to look out for, your livestock should be perfectly happy if they are given the right feed, supplies, and regular checkups throughout winter.

Just remember to keep checking in on them and make sure they have everything they need!

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