How to protect livestock from the elements

The winter months take a toil even on the hardiest of cattle. The frigid temperatures, frozen water sources and snow-covered fields leave many farmers wishing for spring at the mere mention of winter. Though livestock producers cannot control what Mother Nature has in store, they can take steps now to help their operations be ready for the harsh elements. 

If possible, avoid wintering cattle in open fields. Try to find pastures with trees or other natural barriers to provide a windbreak and protection from the winter weather. 

“If it is a huge pasture that has no trees or anything, it’s probably a good idea to come up with some type of make shift type of cover,” Chelsey Kimbrough, Ph.D., livestock specialist with the University of Arkansas System’s Division of Agriculture, said.

Some sort of shelter is particularly important for small ruminants or for cattle operations that have calves coming during the winter. “It doesn’t have to be anything fancy,” Kimbrough added. “It could be anything, such as a little lean-to shed out in the field, as long as there is something for them to get under.” 

“If it is a huge pasture that has no trees or anything, it’s probably a good idea to come up with some type of make shift type of cover.”

— Chelsey Kimbrough, Ph.D.

The shelter will help animals stay warm and dry. Some sheep and goat producers have flocks and herds that start kidding or lambing in December or January. In these situations, producers need a barn to give the kids and lambs a good start. 

“They obviously need to have a place to put those new babies to ensure that they are thriving, thrifty and sucking their mom and everything is going good,” Kimbrough explained. 

The same holds true for cattle producers. Baby calves born in inclement weather need a warm, dry place to help them get off to the right start. 

Additionally, sometimes in the winter months predators can be a problem. This is especially the case with sheep and goats when coyotes and other predators are on the prowl. It’s even more of an issue when ewes and does are lambing and kidding out. 

Some producers lock up the mommas and babies in a barn at night. Then they inventory the animals and turn them out in the morning. That management practice can help to reduce predator problems.

Another benefit to a barn or other shelter is it provides a place to temporarily house a sick animal. It is beneficial to have a place to bring a sick animal where it can be taken care of out of the elements and get healthy. 

Dr. Kimbrough also suggests producers start checking and collecting all the supplies they will need to treat sick animals or to help newborns. She recommends putting together a lambing kit, kidding kit, calving kit and/or general barn kit in order to make sure all the supplies needed are on hand. 

For example, small ruminant producers may want to make sure they have Vitamin E or selenium injections on hand to help combat White Muscle Disease in kids or lambs. If producers take the time now to gather all their supplies, then that’s one less stress to have to manage on a nasty winter day. “It is always better to be overprepared than underprepared,” Kimbrough said.


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