Staying warm in winter
When the weather is cold animals can’t put on layers of clothing like we can. Farmers take special care to ensure their animals stay warm and healthy through the winter months.
When it gets cold dogs, cats and other pets come inside but farmers can’t always bring their whole herd indoors to warm up! For this reason farmers may increase the amount of food they provide to their animals. As animals eat more food their metabolism will be accelerated, burning more energy and therefore producing more body heat to stay warm. Food can be provided through extra grain or roughage, such as hay.
For animals that usually live indoors, such as pigs and dairy cows, winter and summer will still affect farming. The temperature of barns or sheds should be monitored to ensure animals are not too hot or too cold. If a farmer is able to move animals into a barn, dry bedding is provided to ensure animals stay warm. If a barn is not available windbreaks are built so animals can take cover from the wind. Windbreaks may be a row of trees, fences, bales of hay or anything that slows down the wind.
Fresh water is always important to keep animals healthy. During winter, water may freeze so animals cannot drink it. Water tank heaters can be used to keep the water from freezing, or farmers may need to break through the ice several times a day. As it rains or snow melts mud will develop in areas where animals gather. Mud can spread diseases such as foot rot so farmers take care in moving and holding animals.
Farmers can also prepare their herd or flock for winter by measuring body condition. Body condition may also be called fat cover or body reserves and can be easily assessed through Body Condition Scoring. Animals should gain weight in preparation for winter. Farmers can adjust how much they are feeding their animals if they know the body condition score. A little bit of fat coverage will help an animal survive the winter!
Farm animals also have natural adaptations that allow them to cope with changing seasons. Cattle will grow a thicker, longer coat to hold onto body warmth and protect them from the snow and wind. Herds can also huddle together to conserve heat, protecting each other from the cold. Sheep have their own natural insulation! Wool holds in heat well, which allows some sheep breeds to live in cold temperatures. That’s why wool sweaters are so warm!
Text by Holly Webb 2/19/16