By Susan Hurt
With the mercury dropping as quickly as the Waterford Crystal Ball in Times Square, people are bundling up and staying indoors as much as possible. But some of our four-legged friends are not as fortunate and must endure months of cold, wind, ice and snow.
When it comes to protecting animal health and ensuring their productivity, it is important to know a few facts. Dr. Todd Freeman, veterinarian of Little River Veterinary Clinic, shares a few tips to help ensure our animals can bear the winter months comfortably.
1. Provide adequate nutrition for the herd. A heifer’s nutritional requirements increase greatly as she prepares to calve and on through early lactation. An average sized cow needs 25 to 30 pounds of good quality hay per day.
2. Livestock can tolerate cold weather if fed properly. However, creating protection from wind and rain will decrease energy requirements and feed costs as well as increase animal comfort. Three-sided sheds, hills, thickets of trees and grown-up fence rows can all serve as adequate breaks from the prevailing winds. There must be sufficient space for all animals to benefit, or overcrowding and even trampling can occur.
3. As the calving season begins, be prepared with all necessary facilities and equipment. A cow not making progress delivering a calf after 45 minutes to an hour is likely to need assistance to deliver a live calf. Heifers usually take a little longer.
4. To survive, a calf must receive adequate colostrum (first milk) within 12 to 24 hours of birth. Be prepared to milk the cow and feed the calf if necessary. Mother’s milk is best, but commercial colostrum replacer is okay as a last resort.
5. Beware of ice hazards with frozen ponds. Fence off areas, as necessary, to prevent livestock from falling through the ice. If using a watering trough with a tank heater, be sure to follow manufacturer’s recommendations to prevent fires and electric shocks or electrocution of livestock.
6. Provide a high-quality, free-choice mineral to the cows to prevent grass tetany (low magnesium) and other health problems.
7. Cows and especially newborn calves need a place to lie down off of the snow. In times when you have total ground cover, take a Grader blade or a front-end loader bucket and clear a spot near a feeding area to give them a dry spot to bed.
8. All too often, where there are animals in the winter, there is mud. With good management and planning, the negative environmental and animal health impacts of mud can be minimized. Mud is most commonly found where animals are forced or choose to congregate. Mud causes foot and hoof diseases, such as foot rot and thrush, more likely and causes animals to be perpetually chilled. The wetness of mud can make parasite survival more likely as well.
9. Be careful when using blankets on your horse. Over blanketing a horse can cause it to overheat, which can lead to dehydration and a host of health problems. If you are concerned about your horse’s comfort during winter, talk to your veterinarian about safe options.
10. In muddy conditions, keep an eye out for loose shoes on your horse. It doesn’t take much mud for horseshoes to be sucked off in the right conditions.
11. Give wildlife consideration when you’re snuggled in your house this winter. Bird feeders and seed are inexpensive. If placed near a window, it can give children an opportunity to learn about different species of birds. Also, if you have them available, keep your deer and turkey feeders filled, especially during snow cover.
12. If you have outdoor dogs and cats, make sure they have adequate food, water and shelter and if possible, bring them inside on very cold nights.
By Susan Hurt