With Winter upon us, it is important to consider the animals in your care that will be exposed to the cold, ice and snow.
Whether you have livestock or pet animals, you need to provide proper protection to make sure animals in your care are protected from drafts, have a place to get in out of wet weather and have plenty of fresh feed and water to help them fend off the cold.
Many people ask whether they need to provide heat for their poultry flocks. Generally speaking, fledged birds (fully feathered and able to regulate their body temperature) do not require any supplemental heating during the winter. Make sure you provide feed and water in addition to a shelter with good ventilation, free from drafts and protection from snow and rain. On the coldest nights, you may provide a bit of heat for large combed roosters that are prone to frostbite on their large combs and wattles.
Horses, cattle, sheep and goats grow an extra thick coat for the winter. Generally speaking, this natural coat will provide adequate protection as long as it stays dry. Access to a run-in shed or barn will help provide the protection needed. Some horse owners prefer to blanket their charges to help keep the warmth in, but most horses (as long as they have a run-in area) will not require a blanket.
During cold weather, your livestock will need extra nutrients to help generate heat and keep them warm. Forage (hay) consuming animals will do well with extra hay to help generate heat from the process of digestion. Dogs and other animals will need extra calories to burn to keep their body temperature up. All outside animals will enjoy a nice bed of hay or straw to provide insulation from the cold. To make sure the bedded surface is dry, perform a ”knee test”. If you can kneel in the bedding and have dry knees when you get up, the bedding is dry enough for the animals. Wet bedding will make the animals wet and cold.
Undoubtedly, the hardest thing to provide during cold weather is water. Fresh, not frozen water must be provided every day to prevent dehydration. Animals should not be expected to eat snow. Snow is cold and will chill the inside of the animal making it harder for them to fight the cold. Every bodily process requires water. If animals do not drink enough water during the cold months and they consume larger quantities of hay, they may develop constipation and other digestive problems.
Providing heated water bowls and buckets will alleviate the problem. If that is not an option, change their water twice per day and allow them to drink their fill.
Make sure all of the animals in your care have a clean, dry sheltered place with plenty of feed and water and they will stay happy and healthy during the long cold months ahead.