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Livestock Care in the Winter Months

Dec. 21 may mark the first day of winter, but temperatures have already started to drop in many areas of the country and snow is beginning to fall. For farmers and ranchers, winter is a volatile time of year. Inclement weather and freezing temperatures can wreak havoc on the agriculture industry, especially for livestock ranchers whose livelihoods depend on the health of their herds.

No one can expect the unexpected, but creating a winter plan of care for your livestock prevents setbacks and ensures you’re prepared if the worst does happen. Below are a few tips on how to make sure your livestock don’t just survive but thrive this winter.

Food and Water Intake

Most livestock can easily handle cold temperatures as long as they have proper nutrition and body insulation. Warren Rusche, cow-calf field specialist at South Dakota State University Extension, says an animal’s metabolism and digestion activity increase during the winter months to help keep it warm. This triggers an increase in appetite and voluntary feed intake. Keep this in mind as you plan for winter and ensure your livestock have access to enough food throughout the season – including salt licks and other sources of healthy minerals.

Food and water intake go hand in hand. If water isn’t readily available, livestock will reduce their feed intake, which puts them at risk of cold stress. Place multiple water tanks in high-traffic areas and make sure they don’t freeze over. Consider purchasing water heaters if you are unable to routinely de-ice the tanks yourself and to encourage your livestock to drink. The University of New Hampshire Cooperative Extension says animals are more likely to drink water if you keep tanks around 50 degrees Fahrenheit.


Unlike humans, livestock don’t need additional winter gear to keep warm. If your animals are healthy, they should develop appropriately thick winter coats on their own. The UNH Extension says the general rule of thumb is if you can keep your animals dry and out of the wind, they should easily withstand the winter.

Wind can work its way through fur and cause hypothermia. If you pasture livestock during the winter, you must provide shelter or some kind of windbreak to protect your livestock during storms. Animals are similarly susceptible to disease if their coats are wet in freezing temperatures, as ice may form on their fur. Ensure your livestock have adequate shelter from freezing rain and that your barn’s foundation and walls are free of leaks.

Emergency Action Plan

You’re in good shape for the winter if your animals are healthy and have adequate access to food, water and shelter. However, blizzards and sudden storms can throw a wrench into even the best-laid winter plans.

You can’t predict the weather, but you can be prepared for the worst when it comes. Creating a winter weather emergency action plan and preparedness kit for your entire operation will provide you with peace of mind and protect your bottom line. Specifically for your livestock, make sure this plan includes setting aside extra bedding and food stores.

Failing to correctly prepare for winter could cost your animals their lives. Rest easy knowing you’re ready for whatever the season throws at you by planning ahead. For all-encompassing protection that covers you if your best planning fails, take a look at James Allen Insurance’s livestock policy options and protect your bottom line this winter.

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