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Farmers gearing up for colder weather

November 06, 2007|By JEFF SEMLER

Since "Old Man Winter" will soon be arriving, we need to prepare for the challenges that winter brings for man and beast.

The cold, snow, ice, rain, wind and any combination thereof, complicates barn chores and limits the time you want to spend outside.

For these reasons, folks typically do not spend as much time in their barns during the winter months. However, here are some suggestions to keep in mind, so you can insure your animals are receiving adequate care this time of year.

With the cold weather brings the risk for frozen water buckets and troughs in barns and pastures. Free and continuous access to water is important to maintain healthy livestock. Excessively cold water will decrease your animal's water consumption. Ideally, water should be maintained at about 40 degrees fahrenheit - heated or geothermal waterers are commonly used to assure the water source is not too cold or frozen over. When an animal's water consumption decreases, feed intake also decreases, leaving less energy available to maintain body temperature and condition. Reduced water and feed intake also leave your stock at risk for a number of health issues, including dehydration.

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While livestock will need some protection from the elements, it is not necessary to keep them in a closed barn throughout the winter. Livestock have two natural defenses against the cold - a long winter coat and a layer of fat beneath the skin, providing an excellent source of insulation. Keep in mind that the insulating ability of an animal's hair coat is lost when an animal is wet or covered in mud, so it is important to provide a dry shelter for them in cold, wet weather.

You have heard the adage "an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure." This is very true in livestock production. The best management is to make sure your livestock is in adequate body condition before cold weather hits.

As with any time of year, provide quality forage consistent with the animals' nutritional needs, which do not significantly change during the winter months. Older animals or animals with compromised health might have a more difficult time maintaining body condition in extreme cold weather. However, this is generally not an issue in this region. An animal should be fed according to their type, age, and use - letting body condition be your guide.

For horses, inactivity, overfeeding and hoof care are probably a bigger concern this time of year. As for inactivity and overfeeding, they can lead to obesity and associated health problems in the spring.

The same amount of attention should be paid to your animal's hooves, whether you are riding regularly or not. This is often one aspect of animal care that is overlooked in the winter. Horses' hooves are still growing in the winter months and they are walking on frozen, uneven ground, so timely and appropriate farrier work is important. Also, remember to pick hooves regularly to remove dirt and debris.

Now what about for us - here are a few things to remember. Dress in layers wearing hat and gloves. Working outside in the winter is not a fashion show, so remember 60 percent of your body heat loss is from your head. Also remember wool insulates whether it is wet or dry.

"Be prepared," is not only the Boy Scout motto but should be a reminder for you, too. Make sure you have batteries, flashlights and blankets in case of winter power outages. Having supplemental heat that does not require electricity nor that causes carbon monoxide issues is also a good idea. In rural areas have several gallons of water set aside, since your well pump will not work without electricity either.

Attention to these details will insure that when spring arrives, you and your animals will be ready. Additional information on animal care and related topics are available from the Extension Office. So when you are caring for your animal, take a hot drink with you to the barn and enjoy your labor of love.

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