Winter Risks for Livestock Animals
Livestock animals are often at risk of health problems in areas where temperatures get below freezing. Owners of livestock need to be especially aware of winter risks to all their animals, including the farm dog, and farm cats!
Livestock animals often experience diarrhea when temperatures suddenly plunge. This is not so much of a worry in adult animals, but scours (diarrhea) in calves, lambs, and foals, can be life threatening. Diarrhea can lead to dehydration and it is the dehydration that is a huge factor since it can be fatal.
Livestock animals are also at risk for problems such as frostbite. This is more of a concern in young, old, or underweight animals. Their extremities, such as ears, tail, and even limbs, are at risk for being frozen on cold days. It is not uncommon to have young animals lose their ears or tail this way.
Hypothermia is also a risk for livestock animals in the winter, particularly if they did not get a chance to acclimatize to cold weather, or were in a particularly drafty location.
Pneumonia is most common when temperatures fluctuate between very warm and very cold. Special attention to the animals during these times of strange weather should help spot any ailing animal.
©owner photo of pregnant sheep.
Livestock animals are often kept pregnant over winter for spring birthing. In addition to needing extra feed simply because it is winter, they need even more because they are pregnant. One of the biggest winter risks is that a pregnant animal is not getting enough feed.
Livestock should not be made to eat snow in the winter, they should have fresh water. Snow is mostly air so an animal needs to eat a lot to get enough water into their system. Automatic waterers should be checked regularly to make sure they are unthawed and working. Icy areas around waterers can be a hazard for slipping.
Ducks and geese should be given fresh water to drink, but not enough to swim in, even on a cold day they will be tempted to swim and can freeze.
Livestock are sometimes bred so that they give birth in the winter, in which case a warm barn is a must, risks to the newborn are highest when born outdoors on a winter day.
©by author, Stubby the packhorse - with frostbit ears.
Another consideration is that predators may be more active in winters, more likely to come onto a farm, particularly at lambing, or calving time, so extra care should be taken during winter in regards to watching out for predators. Having farm lights around the barn (where the livestock animals hang out) may seem like a good idea, but this means they can be seen by predators but cannot see beyond their ring of light. When in total darkness they have a better ability to see what is around them.
One concern that livestock owners face is that livestock animals seldom show signs of poor health until it is too late. They know that as prey animals if they show signs of being weak they are likely to be targeted by predators, as such an animal that is perhaps suffering from pneumonia might try to look healthy up until it is too late – so livestock handlers must be very alert to any changes in an animals behavior and should not hesitate to medicate if needed, or to call for veterinarian attention.