6 Tips to Winterize Your Farm to Protect Livestock

Inspect feed, water, ventilation and structural issues before severe weather sets in to protect livestock including cattle and horses.

by Anna O'Brien
PHOTO: Shutterstock

Winter has yet to officially arrive, but cold temperatures and snow in some parts of the U.S. tell us clearly that it’s coming. Now is the time to double-check various aspects of your farm operation so your animals can handle whatever the season throws at them. Here are some things to consider as your winterize your barn as well as pastures and farm lots for your livestock.

1. Know Your Need for Feed

In most parts of the U.S., access to pasture diminishes greatly in the winter, but grazing animals still need roughage for a vast majority of their diet. Check your hay stores. Do you have enough? If you don’t have the space to store enough until spring, do you have a reliable supplier for the middle of winter? A corollary to this is to make sure you’re storing hay properly: A dry, well-ventilated area is key, and easy accessibility is a plus. If this is the first winter for your animals, you might wonder how much hay they really need. A general rule horses: An average adult horse eats approximately 2 percent of its body weight in hay per day—so 20 pounds of hay per day for a 1,000-pound horse. This is also a decent guideline for cattle as well. Keep in mind that intake varies somewhat depending on the quality of the roughage. For more accurate calculations, consider getting your hay analyzed and talk to your local agricultural extension agent.

2. Guard Water Against Freezing

Ice formation in water troughs and buckets is a huge worry in the winter. What’s your watering plan? You might need to consider bucket warmers and trough heaters. If it doesn’t typically get below freezing where you are, still plan to check water on a regular basis. A corollary to this item is considering the layout of your pastures and paddocks. Are there low damp spots that might become icy? Will this prevent access or create difficult access to water troughs or hay in the field?

3. Make Minor Repairs to Barns and Other Structures

If you’ve avoided mending a wonky gate or poor piece of fencing, now’s the time to do it before the weather turns to unworkable conditions. For older structures, consider checking the roof if you get a lot of snow in your area. Roof collapses in barns are usually preventable tragedies.

4. Check and Mend Blankets

Some livestock, including senior farm animals, neonates and some horses, need a little extra help in the winter, and a blanket is key when you winterize. If any of your animals use a blanket, now’s the time to shake the coats out, attend to any minor repairs, reapply waterproofing, and check the blankets’ fit. Any rub spots should be caught and readjustments made now before they become outright sores later in the season.

5. Inspect Shelters in the Field

Wide open pastures are usually fine places to keep livestock in the winter, but dampness and single-digit wind chills can be tough. A windbreak or run-in shed are great places for livestock to escape the elements. If your pasture has a run-in, inspect it before severe weather strikes. Are there any broken boards or exposed nails? How is the footing and drainage inside? Make any minor repairs now.

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6. Maintain Proper Barn Ventilation

It is very tempting to close up the barn in an attempt to make a cozy shelter, but air quality in such a space quickly becomes a health issue. Dust from bedding, hay and straw are potent airway irritants for animals, not to mention ammonia from urine buildup. Try to keep some windows open if your animals are inside during the winter months.

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