Sheep and goat producers are reminded to monitor body condition and nutrition this winter.

Producers preparing for the winter months need to provide the right amount of vitamins and minerals, feed and water, take care of expecting mothers and provide housing and warmth, to ensure minimal health problems in their herds.

Vitamins and Minerals

The best thing producers can do to optimize animal health for the winter is to simply provide a vitamin/mineral mix specific to the species. Vitamins and minerals are always crucial, regardless of the season, but become even more important during cold weather because animals have higher nutritional needs in the winter.

Production stage, age of the animal, expected performance, pasture conditions, can all have an impact on the animal’s needs.

Elizabeth Walker, professor of animal science at Missouri State University said an animal needs free choice vitamin/mineral so that it can handle whatever stress comes.

James Martin, owner of Martin Farms, has been producing cattle, sheep and dairy goats for 50 years. Martin said that mineral tubs are a good way to incorporate minerals for small animal herds. Martin uses Solid Feed Supplement which is formulated to enhance forage utilization by providing free-choice supplementation of the protein, vitamins and trace minerals that animals need to maintain peak performance.

“We use a mineral tub that our livestock can get to every day. Mineral tubs improve herd performance at a predictable cost and they last us for a month rather than just buying a sack of minerals that can last up to a few weeks. They waste less, and minerals tubs are self-limiting intake control,” Martin said.

Food and Water

How much feed and water an animal should consume depends on forage and pasture conditions.

Walker said an animal will eat about two percent of its body weight on a dry matter basis. If your animal weights 100 pounds, it should eat about two pounds of dry matter.

“However, a growing lamb or kid, can easily consume up to six percent of its body weight. Stage of production is helpful, and animals should be fed appropriate for their condition,” Walker said.

When a dairy goat is lactating, feed 4 to 6 pounds of hay, a pound of grain for every 3 pounds of milk produced in mid-lactation and one pound for every five pounds of milk produced in late-lactation.

Water intake will depend on what type of diet animals are consuming. Animals can take in water from forage and if the land is dry, animals will need more water sources.

Provide free choice, clean water. In the winter, water is likely to freeze, it is best to have freeze proof waterers or heaters, or there is the choice to break water a few times daily, so the animal will consume maximal water.

Gestation and Newborn Care

When breeding animals, prepare them to kid or lamb in the spring or fall where the animal can stay healthier.

“If planning to kid/lamb in the winter, only do so if you can sustain losses, you have ample labor and you have ample barn space,” said Walker. “The best thing you can do is not lamb/kid in the winter, leave it for the spring.”

During gestation animals can become obese, which can cause complications during the last few weeks of gestation. Walker said to keep females at about a 3.5 to 4 body condition score (BCS).

Pregnant animals shouldn’t always be separated. Sheep and goats are social animals and do not like to be left alone. By separating the animal, they may become more skittish.

If you separate pregnant animals, be sure they are with cohorts, but kept safe. Anytime the social order of a group is changed, new “wars” are fought for dominance, which could endanger the safety of pregnant animals.

Martin said housing mothers with their newborns can quickly soil bedding, so it’s best to replace bedding daily.

Newborn livestock should be given the option of going inside or outside. Keep a close eye on newborns to make sure they’re nursing and drinking water, and pay close attention to potential orphans and health issues such as scours.

Housing and fencing

Walker said livestock doesn’t always need coverage, in fact many animals will resist going indoors and often it depends on the climate and breed of the animal. Although, you should have a barn available for animals to go in and out as they please.

“Goats and sheep are more susceptible to cold in some cases, laying down straw, low quality grass round bale out of the wind is appropriate,” Walker said. “The animals then can have a dry place to lay down out of the wind.”


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