By Karen Johnson, Extension Educator – McLeod and Meeker Counties
Recently, I was working with a farmer that was trying to get his automatic waterers functioning efficiently for winter. The heating element had been disconnected from dairy heifers playing with the waterer over the summer. Good thing he was getting the waterer ready for winter because he was able to find a defective float as well. How about you? Have you considered all the ways to get your livestock ready for winter?
Animals in general have three different processes to prepare themselves for winter. One, livestock can grow long, thick coats to provide insulation against cold weather. If livestock are not exposed to the cold such as in a warm barn, they acclimate to the temperature of their given environment. The hair coat needs to stay clean and dry to provide the best insulation protection. Two, livestock tend to put on more weight in the winter months. Be sure to talk with your nutritionist ahead of time to make sure that your livestock have enough energy in their diet to help protect them from the cold weather. Three, animals naturally adjust their metabolic rate to help produce more heat to help maintain their core body temperature. This need for energy takes these resources away from other body functions such as milk production if a higher energy diet is not provided.
What are some things that we can do as farmers to get ready for winter? Think about the basic needs of all living things and apply them to your livestock. Food, water and shelter!
Nutrition – Livestock need more calories to keep themselves warm, especially during some of the bitter cold winters we have experienced recently in Minnesota. Discuss with your nutritionist or feed dealer the ideal options for your herd and facilities. You may consider sorting out thin animals in order to provide them more specialized care such as a higher energy ration and less crowded, draft-free shelter.
Water - Be sure to be checking your waterer or water tanks regularly for frozen water. Frozen water or excessively cold water significantly limit water and feed intake of our livestock. Animals, like humans, prefer the temperature of the water to be between 40 and 65 degrees. Consider utilizing a thermometer to determine if tank heaters and waterer heating elements are in proper working order.
Shelter - Provide a shelter for livestock to get them out of the elements. A wind break is one solution; however, providing a roof is ideal. Providing deep, clean, dry bedding is essential to help keep the animals warm. Remember that a clean dry hair coat provides significantly better insulation than a dirty, wet hair coat. Also take time to evaluate your building for drafts that can create a problem. Look around doors, windows and curtains for areas that should be sealed.
There are two other things to keep in mind. One is that livestock that remain healthy throughout winter can fair cold temperatures more efficiently. Work with your veterinarian to keep livestock in tip top shape and up-to-date on their vaccinations. The other thing to consider is that with cold temperatures comes ice! Ice creates unsafe walking surfaces for both your livestock and yourself. Consider ruffing up the surface and adding sand or gravel for traction.
Now is the time to make necessary repairs or adjustments to keep livestock safe, healthy and happy this winter season. Take advantage of the nice weather while it lasts to ensure your livestock have the nutrition, water, shelter, health and traction they need for winter.