Livestock owners should remember to provide some comfort to animals in the winter months
With winter settled in across the Ozarks, producers should be aware of potential cold stress issues.
While no one wants to linger outside during chores with a single digit wind chill, it pays to take a good look at the animals in case they are stressed by the winter environment.
“Detecting cold stress symptoms in cattle can be as simple as observing how they act when you’re feeding and observing them each day,” Eldon Cole, livestock specialist with the University of Missouri Extension, explained. “Do they come running when the truck drives in the gate? Do they start eating or do they hang back and act lethargic?”
He also noted that “severe cold will cause cattle to actually shiver and stand around humped up,” whereas cattle that are handling colder temperatures without many problems can be seen licking and grooming to warm themselves. Cattle that are stressed from extreme temperatures may also drop weight.
If the cattle are quite muddy, this can also be a stress indication.
“Mud is a big stressor so try to keep cattle out of muddy areas like around feeding bunks or bale rings,” Cole said.
Moving the feeding area routinely, if possible, can help prevent the buildup of mud.
“Wind is a stressor, so wind-breaks help,” Cole suggested. If barns or other man-made shelters are not available, fields with cedar glades or hills help reduce the wind chill factor.
Signs of cold stress in other livestock, such as pigs, can be indicated by a “pig pile.” Cold pigs will sleep on top of one another to stay warm if necessary, which can result in devastating losses if a young pig or smaller breeder gets crushed.
While pigs need appropriate winter shelter, they also require adequate ventilation.
“In the winter, provide warm, dry, draft-free quarters with plenty of bedding and supplemental heat if necessary,” advised William G. Luce, Extension Swine Specialist with the University of Oklahoma.
If poultry are suffering from cold stress, especially wind related, it will often show up on their combs and wattles.
“A basic rule in cold weather is to give birds protection from the wind. Combs and wattles freeze easily in high winds but survive at temperatures well below freezing when air is calm,” explained R. Scott Beyer, poultry specialist with the Kansas State University Extension. The shelter must also be as free of moisture as possible.
“Give birds a place to stay dry,” advised Beyer. “Feathers only retain body heat when dry. When birds are unable to escape wet and windy conditions, they are less likely to survive winter.”
Knowing the signs of cold stress and being prepared to move or manage animals differently will help everyone make it through winter in the Ozarks relatively unscathed.