Pro-tips: Keeping livestock healthy in winter
By Zachary Grimm
As the weather gets colder as the year comes to an end while another begins, it’s very important to remember that our livestock need help to make it through the winter, just as we sometimes struggle. The local vets in Fredericktown and Mt. Vernon have some tips on how to help our animals through this rollercoaster of a season.
Phil Dilts, of The Fredericktown Veterinary Practice, says that animals such as cows and horses tend to deal with the colder temperatures alone. But coupled with being wet, as may happen a lot more often in a warm winter such as Ohio can have, it can be much more of a challenge to keep livestock healthy. The second issue is one that may not always be considered thoroughly, and that is the idea that owners of animals like cows and horses would want to keep their animals sheltered. We know they can manage to stay warm, in fact, cows typically have a thermoneutral zone right around 50 degrees. That is, they can still maintain their body temperature at this level with little or no exertion of energy to do so. But, if we shelter them too tightly, what can happen is that they can easily develop lung issues. As they are sheltered so close together, the fumes from their urine and movements have nowhere to go, thus the livestock breathe them in. So, it’s very important to keep your shelters ventilated in the winter, but not to excess. Besides the health issues from their bodily functions, livestock can also easily accumulate mites and other skin parasites from overcrowding.
Food is also a very important consideration, but perhaps not in the ways you might think. Dilts says that sometimes he hears of livestock owners who want to feed their horses more grain in the winter months, assuming the animals need more calories when it’s much colder. But, Dilts adds, if you feed them more grain instead of just hay, “that’s like giving a kid a candy bar, then sending him or her to bed.” More hay with fewer calories also equates to less of a chance of the animals developing stable vices. Stable vices are those behaviors (in horses, especially) which are not normal to the animal. Things like biting, chewing on wood, or cribbing are definite signs that your horse may soon injure itself if it does not soon have the opportunity to release its energy, which can come from an irregular diet that includes more calories, like in grains. In terms of livestock’s water supply in the winter, it is both sensible and necessary to keep the water heated, either by carrying warm water to the trough, or by filling and using a heated trough.