Species Specific Cold Weather Tips


So this week I have decided to forego my usual philosophical agrarian musings to provide you with some practical tips for keeping your livestock healthy in this cold weather.  So get ready for some wild winter weather and don’t forget to bundle up!

Cattle are very hardy animals and can weather extremely cold temperatures because their bodies have been able to slowly adapt to the dropping temperatures over the last few months.  What they and all other animals can’t handle is being both cold and wet.  This week will bring extreme cold and wind chills so the cattle are going to need extra energy to process in their ruminant furnaces to keep them warm throughout the cold days and nights.
In extreme cold, cattle need energy not protein, so feed extra quality hay and be sure to provide drinking water so that they can break that hay down and heat themselves from the inside out.  The next most important thing is to have a wind break.  Cattle must be able to get out of the wind in extreme weather.  A wind break can be a three sided shelter, the side of a barn, a hollow, or a tree bank.  Cattle can usually do fine without bedding, but if their loafing are is muddy or snowy, it will help them if you lay down some bedding so they can stay dryer.

Small Ruminants
These guys are almost the same as cattle in the fact that they need more energy to allow them to generate heat through their rumens, but because these species developed in more arid climates, it is critical that they have a robust wind break.  The easiest way to do this is to build them a three sided shelter with a roof and a place a lot of dry bedding inside.  They must be able to take shelter from rain and snow.

I am always surprised by these guys and how hardy they are.  Because pigs don’t have a lot of hair it is critical that they stay dry in very cold weather.  The best way to keep them dry is to ensure that they have a shelter with a LOT of dry bedding.  They will nest and cuddle in the bedding and will be toasty warm on even the coldest nights.  You must check the bedding daily and add more as needed.  The pigs will eat some the bedding, they will track mud and wet into the house after going outside to play, and they may even do their business in the shelter if it is especially bitter outside.  Pigs should also receive supplemental general rations in extreme cold and be sure that they have access to fresh water a few times each day.

Most people are surprised to see their chickens out and about in the cold and snowy weather but these guys can adapt to very cold temperatures.  Their scaly legs and feet are not affected by the freezing temperatures, and if allowed to naturally adjust to the colder temperatures without supplemental heat, they will develop downier feathers to insulate themselves.  The biggest factor with chickens is to make sure that their coop does not have drafts inside.  They do not need an insulated coop, in fact that will do more harm than good because of the condensation that can form on the inside of the walls.  Another tip, don’t’ forget to collect your eggs a couple of times each day or you’re going to have frozen eggs.

Small Mammals
The key with these little guys is to allow them the time to adjust to the temps and to keep them out of the wind.  Rabbits are perfectly happy to out winter if their coats are allowed the time to naturally adjust.  As with all of the animals, extra feed and fresh water are every important to winter health.

A three sided shelter out of the wind, extra feed, and supplemental energy in the form of hay and bedding are all going to help these guys get though the cold weather.  If you have animal that were recently shorn you may want to consider a blanket for them but only when the temperature gets really low.  If they start sweating in the blanket you’ll have a wet animals and we all know that is not a good thing.

Horses, much like all of the grass eating species, require extra hay and fresh water.  Water is especially important to horses as they can experience colic if they are drinking large quantities of cold water.  This can be avoided by ensuring that they have access to fresh water all day.  A shelter that is out of the wind, has clean dry bedding will get them through the winter just fine.
So it’s all pretty simple and nothing to worry about.  Actually, hot weather is much harder on these animals than cold if they are properly adjusted and ready.  Animals follow the cycles of nature and their bodies have made adjustments that allow them to survive in weather that could kill human in hours. So be sure to

  1. Provide extra supplemental feed for increased energy
  2. Provide a species appropriate shelter or wind break.
  3. Make sure that they are able to stay dry.
  4. Provide bedding to help insulate their bodies from the cold ground and mud.

Now that you know how to keep your animals safe in the winter weather you can relax and watch this video of cattle playing in the snow and maybe you’ll feel better.


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