With the recent polar vortex that sent temperatures in most of the country plunging, many animal managers were left wondering—how do you help livestock deal with extreme cold?
Many experts believe that cold rains and wind are most challenging for animals living outdoors, rather than still cold air or snow. Providing animals an optional shelter to escape extreme weather is a good way to keep them from losing body condition. Some farmers choose to add extra bedding in shelter areas. This is especially important for goats, who add fat layers internally more than externally to maintain heat, which does not hold up well to extreme cold.
Since animals lose weight in winter as they burn fat to keep warm, it’s easier to build up a suitable body condition score in the fall than it is to recoup weight loss in January. Gradually adding concentrate to the diet is a good way to bulk up animals who are too thrifty, but be sure to make feed changes slowly to avoid intestinal upset.
Frostbite to teats is always a concern in especially harsh climates. Wiping milk off the teat and lightly rubbing with mineral oil and a teat dip after milking can help to prevent frostbite and/or chapping. This is another area in which shelter can be helpful—frostbite is a greater risk on tissue that is exposed to extreme wind or damp.
Providing fresh water is also important to maintaining winter health. When tank heaters are outmatched, a spare tire in a large tank can work against icing over—the rubber absorbs heat during the day and is less conducive to ice crystals forming on its surface. Offering warmed water to stressed or sick animals is a good way to encourage them to rehydrate.
Stay warm out there!