Winter is coming and snow is expected as we move forward into the cold months. Previously, I provided a guide on how to keep chickens and backyard flocks warm as the temperatures drop.
However, we have four-legged friends that will be out in the elements or affected by the cold who can benefit from several management strategies to keep them warm. Since our animals cannot simply put on a coat and gloves when they are feeling chilly — though that would be interesting to see — we should take steps to keep them comfortable.
Water is always the first honorable mention in keeping our livestock healthy year-round. Access to fresh and clean water should always be available.
Even when moisture is ample, should we be so lucky in New Mexico, snow cover or ice accumulation is not enough to provide for the water requirements of livestock. Daily water requirements for sheep, goats, cattle and horses vary from three to 14 gallons a day.
Tanks may freeze over and will need extra monitoring so livestock can have unfrozen water to consume. Water heaters may be used, guidelines and instructions should be followed to ensure safety from fire and electric malfunction.
Livestock’s energy requirements start to increase as they experience cold temperatures under the lowest critical environmental temperatures. LCT varies for size and age of livestock. For more information on LCT reach out to your extension office.
As temperatures drop, the body starts to rely on energy, through feed or body storages, to keep the body warm and functioning. Energy can be added to the diet through grains and roughages. Fermentation of feed in the rumen produces heat in ruminant animals.
Iowa State Extension recommends feeding in the late afternoon to help during the winter nights as the rumen temperature spikes around six hours after being fed. There has been some evidence of roughage providing a greater amount of heat release.
Changes in animals’ diets should be done slowly, especially when adding in grains. Minnesota Extension relays cattle will generally need 30 percent more feed as temperatures are in the single digits and to put feed in areas you want your animals to stay for warmth and protection.
Provide windbreaks for animals to congregate and protect them from cold winds as wind chills can severely lower the air temperature. Bedding is a great resource if your operation allows for it, however, it needs stay clean.
If your animals are inside a structure, allow for ventilation of the area to avoid ammonia fume build up from excretions. You should check your shelter for drafts.
If you have a larger herd that cannot fit into a structure, be mindful of natural or innovative windbreaks, such as trees, hills and solid fencing. Overcrowding can become an issue; check your space to make sure it is adequate for animals to congregate.
The above information serves as supplemental strategies to help our livestock animals stay warm, but we should also remember that livestock are hardy animals. Livestock that are acclimated to their environment should develop a nice winter coat naturally for their own insulation. In fact, animals that accumulate snow on their backs have a great coat and are insulated well enough that they are retaining their own body heat. This keeps the snow from melting.
For an animal to become pregnant, maintain pregnancy, develop a winter coat and/or have healthy fat deposits they must be already in a proper body condition score and in good health. To achieve optimal performance, animals must be taken care of at all times of the year, with prevention practices in place to reduce problems before they arise.
To register for an upcoming program, call the Valencia County Cooperative Extension Service at 505-565-3002. For more information, visit valenciaextension.nmsu.edu.
- 4-H Youth Open Enrollment through Jan. 31. New member registration information can be found by contacting the Extension Office at 505-565-3002, or by email to Sierra Cain at [email protected]
- Ready, Set, GROW! Free gardening classes are being offered virtually. “Landscaping Magic: Inspiration for Your Winter Garden” is being offered on Wednesday, Dec. 14. Registration required, visit desertblooms.nmsu.edu/grow.html.
- Santa in the Barn, 12-4 p.m., Saturday, Dec. 17, at the Valencia County Fairgrounds. Come out to Santa’s Barn to play holiday-themed games and check out local holiday crafts from 4-H, FFA and community members.
If you are an individual with a disability who requires auxiliary aid or service to participate in a program, please contact the Valencia County Cooperative Extension Service Office at 505-565-3002 two weeks in advance of the event.
Sierra Cain, guest columnist
Sierra Cain is the Valencia County 4-H/Youth Development agent for the New Mexico State University Cooperative Extension Service.