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Helping Livestock Through the Cold Blast

By   /  January 6, 2014  /  Comments Off on Helping Livestock Through the Cold Blast

This week’s record cold in North America means extra work for all of you with livestock. Here are some tips to help your animals survive this cold blast, and future winter storms.

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Expected low temperatures for Tuesday, January 7, 2014

Expected low temperatures for Tuesday, January 7, 2014

You know this already:  staying dry, shelter from the wind, extra feed and plenty of water are the keys to your livestock making it through frigid winter temperatures.  You’re probably working hard to make sure that they have all these resources too.  But how cold can they take it, and how much extra feed do they need?

This great fact sheet from the Ontario Ministry of Agriculture and Food on Cold Stress in Cows  tells us that with a heavy winter coat and a good layer of fat a cow does well until it hits about 18 degrees F (-8 C).  As the temperature drops, the animal’s metabolic rate increases so it can maintain body temperature.  At 10 degrees (-12 C) she needs 20% more energy or about 5 pounds more hay.  At -10 her energy needs increase to 30% for an additional 8 pounds of hay.  While I haven’t found similar information for sheep and goats, it’s a safe bet to help them maintain by increasing their feed accordingly as well.

Expected high temperatures for Tueday, January 7, 2014. The good news is this current arctic blast is expected to be over by January 9.

Expected high temperatures for Tueday, January 7, 2014. The good news is this current arctic blast is expected to be over by January 9.

Fortunately, your livestock know that eating more is the right thing to do.  Research has shown that just before bad weather arrives, livestock will eat more, then graze little during the storm, and then eat a lot again after the storm.  (If your animals are on high quality pasture, pay attention to their post-storm grazing to prevent bloat.)  Be sure to keep water troughs thawed so that stock have plenty of water available.  Without adequate water, animals limit their feed intake, making it more difficult for them to do their job of eating to stay warm.

Here's the Arctic Vortex as illustrated by Accuweather.com.

Here’s the Arctic Vortex as illustrated by Accuweather.com.

Without an increase in feed during times of extreme cold, your stock lose body weight.  Long-term winter weight loss increases calving/lambing/kidding problems, and newborns may be lighter and weaker.  Keep this in mind for the rest of the winter, as forecasters are telling us to expect more cold spells through February.  According to Paul Pastelok, head of AccuWeather.com’s Long Range Forecasting Department, “Indications are the vortex will fluctuate in intensity and position but will remain in the overall general area into February.”

Worried About Your Barn Roof?

If you’re in one of the areas where snow and ice are accumulating, you may be worrying about all the weight on your barn roof (or on your house for that matter).  From a quick search of the internet I found a variety of instructions for DIY roof snow rakes.  Based on these examples, we’re sure you can figure out how to build one with odds and ends you have at your place:

In the rush to do something, sometimes we forget that the real rule is “Safety First.”  So please be careful, and keep in mind these 5 Rules of Roof Snow Rakes from Popular Mechanics:

1.  First, inspect.  Look for loose shingles, flashing and gutters that you might hook your rake on.

2. Beware icicles.  A cubic foot of ice weighs about 62 pounds.  Now imagine that falling on you if you knock off an icicle or ice dam.  Not a pretty picture!

3. Beware power lines.  Touching them with your ladder or your rake is going to ruin your day.  Pay attention to where they’re attached to your barn or house!

4. Falling snow can damage what it hits on the ground.  If it’s a person, an animal or a prize shrub, consider what’s going to be buried by the snow as it drops from the roof.

5. Right Back at Ya’!  The steeper the roof, the more rapidly the snow comes off and right at you.  This can be good or bad depending on where you’re positioned.  If you’re going to do something silly, be sure you have someone filming it, like this guy:

Be safe out there!  We need you to keep on reading On Pasture!

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About the author

editor and contributor

Kathy worked with the Bureau of Land Management for 12 years before founding Livestock for Landscapes in 2004. Her twelve years at the agency allowed her to pursue her goal of helping communities find ways to live profitably AND sustainably in their environment. She has been researching and working with livestock as a land management tool for over a decade. When she's not helping farmers, ranchers and land managers on-site, she writes articles, and books, and edits videos to help others turn their livestock into landscape managers.

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