Take precautions to keep animals warm, too

January 18, 2011|By JEFF SEMLER |
  • Jeff Semler
Jeff Semler

Baby, it’s cold outside. As I write this, the area is experiencing cold temperatures. I remember hearing earlier this year that December was one of our coldest.  

During times like these, it is hard to take these global warming prophets seriously.  Especially when they say the extreme cold is a function of global warming. The mantra is something like “the extremes in weather are the result of global warming.” As I get older, I find myself hoping for a little global warming.

While I jest, climate change is a topic of much contention as well as a topic for another time. I will be discussing how to cope with the cold for both man and beast.

Humans need to dress in layers. We should protect our extremities like ears, toes and fingers.    The body will automatically protect the vital organs by restricting blood supply to the outer reaches.

Gloves, warm socks, boots and hats are the order of the day. Forget about fashion, keep warm. Suffering through a day of hat hair is better than frostbite. Also, wear a scarf across your face to temper cold air breathing and protect your face from chapping or worse.

If you must work outside, work in intervals, outside for a time then inside for a time. Use caution here — do not go from 15 degrees outside to 75 degrees inside. If you are alternating working conditions, it is far better for your warm environment to be between 40 and 50 degrees. If you will be staying inside for long periods of time, then warmer temperatures are fine.

What you want to avoid is repeatedly exposing your body to extreme swings in temperature. Remember, our bodies can adapt if given time. Think about how warm 50 degrees feels in January and how cold it feels in July. Our body has adapted.

Lastly, don’t forget your diet. Your body uses energy to keep warm. For some, that might not be a problem as they might have some energy to spare. For others, especially young children, elderly adults or those who are very thin, eat more. If you don’t feel hungry, then eat energy- dense foods like cheese and peanut butter.

How about the beasts? For many beasts of the field, cold weather is taken in stride as long as they are properly fed.

As with man, wind is the biggest enemy of livestock. Providing a wind break maybe as simple as moving the flock to a field with a hill with an eastern face or a patch of woods. Nothing could be worse than penning animals in a damp barn full of stale air. This almost ensures respiratory diseases like pneumonia will be your next battleground.

Next, provide good quality hay free choice. I remember last hay season, so use the best you have. Supplement with grain or corn silage. Forage test to know what you are feeding. You may be able to use hay-crop silage depending on the energy levels.

While the energy helps the animal produce and function, the fiber provides the heat. Heat is found in good forage with good fiber. Feed these feedstuffs in a dry area, and keep them out of the mud. This might require rotating feeding places over the course of the winter.

Animals are strong creatures. Many survived thousands of years without man’s help.

Most can withstand these adverse conditions if we provide two things — adequate forage and fresh water to metabolize it. Water is a must. Ice might be frozen water, but to livestock it might as well be a rock. Break ice, provide heaters, carry water, do what you have to but provide water to your stock daily.
Additionally for horses, leave the shoes off in snow and ice. Ice sticks more to shoes than to the hoof and can build up and strain tendons and joints.

Also, forget blankets. While they make people feel better, they can actually trap moisture which can result in skin problems and also chill the horse.

So, enjoy the winter by taking short jaunts outside. Keep your stock well fed and watered. And eat a hearty bowl of soup by the fire in between.

Jeff Semler is an Extension educator, specializing in agriculture and natural resources, for the University of Maryland Extension. He is based in Washington County. He can be reached weekdays by telephone at 301-791-1404, ext. 25, or by e-mail at

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