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Caring for livestock during the cold winter months

By Roberta Tolan
PREVIEW Columnist

Well, it looks like winter has finally returned to Pagosa Country and we are getting some much-needed snow and moisture.

Even though livestock species are designed to be able to live outside and survive most weather conditions, it is important that livestock maintain good body condition in adverse weather. Cattle producers can do a number of things to keep the herd healthy throughout the winter.

The following information was provided by Sharon Bokan, CSU Extension Agent in Boulder County and was written for the Winter 2014 edition of the Sustainable Small Acreage Newsletter.

The Lowest Critical Environmental Temperature (LCT) is the temperature at which animals can maintain their main core body temperature without supplemental energy (feed). For most livestock if they are dry, the LCT is 20 to 32 degrees F. However, if they get wet, it goes up to 60 degrees. Both of these temperatures are without a wind chill factor. Another way to think about this is for every two-degree drop in wind chill temperature, livestock energy (feed) requirements go up 1 percent.

Monitor your livestock for excessive shivering, lethargy and weakness. As animals begin to experience hypothermia, they increase their metabolism to generate more heat. Blood flow to the extremities is reduced. Ears and teats may experience frostbite. Rapid warming of the teats is needed to minimize damage and monitoring for mastitis is required after calving. Some frostbite damage may not be reversible.

Be sure to provide them plenty of forage to meet their added calorie requirement. For horses, you can provide them a warm bran mash, moistened beet pulp or soaked pelleted feed to add water. You may need to not only increase the feed amount, but also the “nutrient density” of it.

Add more nutritionally dense grains to the diet. Have your hay tested. Providing good- to top-quality hay is essential during the winter months.

Water is critical to all living beings. Livestock daily water requirements range from three gallons/day for sheep to 14 gallons/day or more for cattle. They cannot meet their requirements from either forage or consuming snow or ice.

Consuming snow or ice can lower the body temperature, making them more vulnerable to problems. They need fresh, unfrozen and, if possible, slightly warmed water. Animals tend to drink less when it is cold, so they can become dehydrated. You can use tank heaters to help keep stock tanks clear of ice. However, you need to check the heaters to prevent fire and electrocution problems.

Young and older animals are especially vulnerable during the cold. Providing them some extra bedding, protection and warm food and water is important. If you are lambing or calving during the cold, make sure that the mothers are in a well-protected building with plenty of bedding for warmth.

Make sure that the young get dried off quickly. They don’t need a fully insulated, state-of-the-art, heated barn. In many cases, a three-sided structure, hill, clumps of trees or a solid fence provides enough protection from cold winter winds. Reducing exposure to wind is a must in the winter. During a snowstorm or cold spring rains, a structure that provides not only wind protection but a roof to keep them dry is needed. Remember that the LCT jumps drastically as animals get wet.

The coat condition is critical to providing insulation. The more hair the better, as it allows for air space between the hairs to act as insulation. You need to be checking all of your livestock for not only general health and body condition, but also for skin and hair health. When animal hair is wet or muddy, the hair is matted down, limiting the insulating air spaces available. If you provide bedding, it needs to be kept clean and dry. Wet bedding provides no insulation and is not better than lying on the ground.

For additional information, please refer to the following publications:

• The Effects of Cold Stress on Cattle, WVU Extension, http://anr.ext.wvu.edu/livestock/cattle/cold/stress.

• Cold Weather for Pets and Livestock, Clemson Cooperative Extension, www.clemson.edu/extension/ep/cold_livestock.html.

CPR and first aid

CPR and first aid classes will be held Feb. 10 and 12.

Classes are now being offered monthly by the CSU Extension office on the second Monday and Wednesday of each month from 6-10 p.m. Anyone needing to receive or renew certification can register by calling the Extension office at 264-5931.

We will also attempt to schedule classes on additional dates with five or more registrations. Cost for the classes is $80 for combined CPR/first aid and $55 for CPR, first aid or recertification.

The type of first aid information provided will vary by the needs of the audience.

This story was posted on February 6, 2014.