Winter in the Barn
By MARIBETH URALRITH
Protecting livestock is a concern and a challenge even at the best of times for farm owners. Winter’s challenges for the livestock farmer include providing shelter from the elements, free access to fresh water, a balanced diet to maintain the increase of energy needed to combat the cold, and grooming for certain animals and hoof care. Keeping livestock in healthy, physically-fit shape means happy and productive animals even in the harshest of weather.
Wilmington area DVM’s — Carrie Belles of Country View Mobile Veterinary Services and Robert Gano of Orchard Veterinary Care, Inc. take care of area large farm animals and have several useful suggestions for keeping livestock healthy during the winter months.
One essential consideration livestock and large animals owners need to know is ensuring their animals have a fresh water source. “Freezing is a big issue, “states Dr. Belles. “Tank heaters can be used but with caution; manufactures recommendations need to be followed to prevent fires and electric shock – there are also certain types of water tanks designed to resist freezing also take help the work load of the farmer. For those livestock owners with just a few animals or pets, buckets – plastic, not metal should be used and fresh unfrozen water will need to be supplied several times each day.”
Ensuring adequate water intake, Belles comments, will encourage optimal health and performance of live stock and help prevent serious conditions such as colic and impactation of horses.
Another important tip includes feeding. Energy requirements for livestock increase when it is cold, especially when it is wet and cold and even increases more when it is wet, cold and windy. Extra needed energy can increase between 50 and 100 percent for animals in the cold, says Dr. Belles. That extra energy can be provided through good quality roughage such as hay and grains.
“Due to high grain prices and limited amounts of quality hay — supplements with protein, energy, vitamins, and minerals may be necessary to be given to your livestock,” comments Dr. Gano. “Mineral blocks, Salt blocks, Molasses and non– protein nitrogen lick tubs, grain, or soybean meal are all things I would recommend to give to livestock. I would also suggest talking with your feed supplier and veterinarian about adequate rations. One thing to be cautious about is to be very careful of giving your animals molded hay or grain which can make animals sick. When giving grains to livestock, always make changes in rations gradually. For bred livestock in the last 1–2 months of pregnancy I would recommend increased rations and your best hay.”
Shelter is incredibly important for livestock especially in inclement weather. “Access to manmade or natural shelter,” comments Belles, “can significantly lower the effects of wind-chill. Acceptable shelter will decrease energy requirements and therefore feed costs as well as increasing animal comfort. Owners also must make sure there is a sufficient amount of space for all animals to benefit them. Overcrowding can lead to trampling and injury. For pet owners with access to or is housed in a stall or barn, clean, dry bedding should be provided to help insulate the animals from the cold ground and should be routinely changed when it becomes damp or soiled from waste. Horses should be provided with blankets. Good ventilation in barns with no drafts is important to prevent respiratory conditions and diseases.”
“Most livestock needs a wind break or some form of shelter from wind,” adds Gano. “But don’t close them in where excessive moisture makes for higher incident of pneumonia.”
When it comes to winter weather, mud is often an imposing concern, especially for farmers who own cattle herds. “Mud can affect the insulating properties of the animals’ coat,” states Dr. Belles, “and that can have a negative effect on the animals heath and overall well being of adults but especially on calves. Cattle have to expend more energy to get to the feed, bedding, or water source. Spending more energy can leave the cattle with less energy for reproduction. Management becomes an essential factor here — soils types and slopes, feeding pads or ground coverings, minimizing vehicle traffic, and choosing waters sources that produce less water splash are all things that have to be considered when trying to decrease the ill effects of mud,” responds Belles.
Ensuring that livestock is in good physical condition prior to the cold winter months is also important for owners to consider.
“When evaluating the body condition of your livestock, “comments Dr. Gano, “don’t be fooled by heavy hair coats and distended abdomens. Feel over their ribs for adequate body cover. You should be able to detect ribs, but not fell indentations between them. Don’t let parasites and worms weaken your stock. Check for lice signs of excessive rubbing and licking off of hair. Consult with your veterinarian to have feces checked for worm eggs. Observe your stock regularly for signs of sickness-cough, rapid breathing, excessive nasal discharge, diarrhea, drooping head and ears, or lethargy. And also, make sure to consult with your veterinarian to create a vaccination program appropriate for your livestock,” recommends Gano.
For livestock born during the winter months, it is best to monitor the young as much as possible to ensure the mother is cleaning it off and it is receiving colostrums within six hours after its birth. “Consumption of good quality colostrums within the appropriate time is essential for the health of the neonate,” say Dr. Belles. “This will provide it with immunoglobulins from the mother to fight disease and prevent hypoglycemia and hypothermia. Hypothermia is a large area of concern with small ruminate neonates such as kids, crias (baby llama, and alpacas), and lambs. Shelter for these with clean, dry bedding, and a safe heat source should be provided as wind-chill significantly affects these neonates. Insulated and waterproof– jackets are available for most species and can be a significant benefit,” states Belles.
Good nutrition, shelter and fresh water access are all healthy management practices that are key to healthy, high performing and long-living animals of any type. As we are fast approaching the winter months, it is wise to consult your veterinarian about any specific concerns you may have about livestock and pets. Being prepared for winter ensures that your animals are healthy and at their maximum in for production.
Dr. Carrie Belles is a Wilmington native who grew up on a small beef cattle farm. She earned her Doctor of Medicine degree from The Ohio State University’s College of Veterinary Medicine in 2011.
Dr. Robert Gano was born and raised on a farm in Clinton County with hogs, cattle, sheep, and pets. He is also a graduate of The Ohio State University as a Doctor of Veterinary Medicine (DVM) and has practiced in Clinton and surrounding counties for the past 34 years.
(Maribeth Uralrich is a contributor to Acres of Southwest Ohio.)