If we get chilly in the winter months we can grab a cup or bowl of something hot, put on an extra layer or sit in front of the fire. However winter can be a real struggle for animals, taking care of livestock in the winter and keeping them comfortable and healthy is a job that is taken seriously by every farmer. And it is going to be particularly tough this year with a winter crises forecast. So, just what is it that farmers need to do?
Livestock feed requirements increase significantly during the cold winter weather due to the additional energy needed to maintain the animal’s normal body temperature. The energy required raises again if the animal is subject to wet and windy conditions. An animal with a frequently wet coat with expend more energy trying to maintain a comfortable body temperature and thus require a larger amount of good quality feed.
The food supplied for the animals to produce the required energy is best delivered in the form of grain which releases greater heat during digestion. Additional roughage like hay from a bale feeder will provide a safer, lower cost feeding method.
Every change in the weather can lead to either an increase or decrease in the level of feed required, and every change needs to be made gradually so a keen eye on the weather for the farmer is essential.
Labour costs of the feeding also need to be considered. Feeding once a day from large bales can reduce those costs. Using a bale feed as an alternative to feeding cattle straight from the floor and will avoid an approximate 50% waste in the roughage. When feeding straight from the ground the feed gets trampled into the ground.
It is important that livestock have an adequate water intake. This will keep health issues at bay as well as encourage optimal performance of the livestock. It is imperative that the animals are supplied with a good clean source of water all year round. During the winter months it is not acceptable for the livestock to take their water from snow, ice and muddy puddles. With cattle needing 14 gallons of water a day, they would simply never get their quota.
During the winter months, heaters may be required to ensure that the feeding water does not freeze over. If they are not used it may be required to get fresh water to the cattle several times a day, which can be very labour intensive.
Even though livestock can tolerate cold weather if they are fed properly some sort of shelter should be provided during the colder winter months. Sheltering the cattle from wind and rain will reduce the energy requirements which in turn will reduce the feeds costs for the animal.
If sheds are provided for shelter they must be big enough for all animals to benefit from them or overcrowding and even trampling can occur. It is also important to make sure the bedding in any sheds is kept clean and dry to protect the animals from the cold ground. Soiled bedding can lead to animals having respiratory problems and other health issues.
It is important to prepare for the change in nutritional needs and housing of livestock as the winter months approach. Preventing health issues with good care is far more cost effective and economical than having to treat them.