Julian (Skip) Olson, DVM, technical services manager
Winter brings frozen water buckets, mounds of snow, slippery ice and cold temperatures. These conditions can make it a challenging season for you and your animals. Before old man winter starts knocking on your door, take advantage of the remaining fall days to prepare your farm for winter’s chill.
When winter decides to make its debut, you’ll feel more at ease being prepared to take on whatever challenges it throws at you.
Here are five tips to help you prepare for winter on the farm:
1. Stock up on bedding
Make sure you have plenty of bedding available to keep your animals warm and cozy through the winter months. At the very least, you’ll want to ensure you have access to an adequate supply.
It takes more bedding for an animal to maintain its body temperature in cold weather. If your animals get wet from the bedding, they will be cold and uncomfortable.
To keep bedding dry, you might want to consider adding a layer of sawdust or sand underneath to help absorb moisture. While this will help absorb moisture, you will still have to keep bedding dry – it may require frequent cleaning. Mixing wood shavings and straw can also help while keeping animals dry and clean – which is especially important for young animals.
As the weather cools down, animal nutritional requirements go up.
It depends on the species you raise, but a range of 20 to 32 degrees Fahrenheit is the lowest critical temperature livestock can tolerate without additional energy demands to support their normal body temperature. For example, calves less than three weeks old can experience cold stress below 50 degrees Fahrenheit.
For young animals on milk, you can supply them with extra energy by feeding a greater quantity of milk replacer or adding more feedings. Here’s more information on picking a milk replacer for goats and lambs.
Energy supplements, such as Sav-A-Caf® K-Cal for calves, are also available to add in milk replacer or whole milk to increase caloric needs during periods of cold weather. If you plan to welcome new animals during winter, you’ll also want to keep a supply of colostrum replacer on hand.
For animals beyond weaning, feeding more grain, hay and forages can provide them with the additional calories they need to thrive.
3. Prepare shelter
The pasture grazing days will soon be over. Having shelter ready for your animals when winter hits, will help minimize stress and ease the transition.
It’s important for animals to be able to have some shelter or windbreak to get out of the elements during winter. If you have an enclosed shelter for your animals, make sure it is well-ventilated and in good, working order.
Take time to look buildings and shelter over and make any necessary repairs – leaky roofs, cracked windows, broken doors, etc.
You’ll appreciate being able to make the repairs now, rather than later in frigid, winter weather. Your goal is to create an environment for your animals to stay clean, dry and comfortable
4. Ensure water access
If you have heated waterers, make sure to turn them on and double check that they still work properly. If you don’t have heated waterers, you can use heated water buckets or water heaters to keep water from freezing.
Take extra safety precaution when using a heating element or heated water buckets. Both require electrical cords, which are important to keep out of animal’s reach and out of the elements if possible. Remember to check on any electrical cords you’re using throughout the season.
5. Get yourself ready
Just as winter can be a difficult season for animals, it can also be a more challenging season for you. Take an inventory of your winter clothes to make sure you have enough warm clothes on hand.
The more comfortable you are working outside in winter weather, the easier it will be for you to give your animals the proper care they need to thrive and stay healthy.
Winter clothes to consider:
- Warm barn boots
- Boot dryer
- Wool socks
- Hand warmers
- Feet warmers
- Stocking cap
- Long underwear
- Insulated bib overalls
- Winter jacket
For people, there is no such thing as bad winter weather, only bad clothing. For your animals, make sure they have the right environment as described above so they don’t suffer with bad weather. By preparing yourself for winter, you’ll be ready to give your animals the best possible care, no matter what Mother Nature throws your way.