Protect Your Livestock With Winter Weather Wear

Many species are hardy enough to endure cold weather without help, but younger and older animals sometimes require assistance. Here's how to help.

by Anna O'Brien
PHOTO: Shutterstock

As winter weather draws near, the annual closet search for hats and gloves begins and on go the heavy coats. But do you ever wonder about your livestock? Most domesticated animals living outdoors acclimate to their environment by growing thicker coats. Mature ruminants such as cattle, sheep and goats are exceptionally hardy in colder weather—their ability to generate warmth from digestion acts as their own portable space heater. But what about other species and younger animals? Here are some coat considerations for your livestock.

Younger Animals

Mother Nature plans big events for a good reason; most young animals are born in the spring as the weather turns warm. But, because of economics and efficiency, often we breed our livestock to give birth at different times of the year, which means sometimes in colder weather. Young animals are extremely susceptible to hypothermia. For the first few hours after birth, they are wet, and for the first few months of life, they have no fat stores. For neonates born in cold weather, this means fighting off the chill is difficult and they might need help.

Supplying a shelter for wind and precipitation protection goes a long way in keeping young animals healthy in cold weather. Smaller operations can provide even more personal adaptations, if need be. Many llama and alpaca farmers frequently adorn newborn crias with coats to protect them from the elements. Goat and sheep kids as well as young dairy heifers are also sometimes seen wearing winter fashions for the sake of warmth. Many larger feed stores and farm supply companies sell coats for young livestock.

Older Animals

Just as young animals lack optimal metabolism to fight the cold, older animals might also be at risk. Senior horses are commonly ill equipped to handle cold weather. Their dentition is often poor, making it a struggle to consume the excess calories required for proper thermoregulation. The inability to grow a thick winter coat can also be an issue for some older equines. For these reasons, purchasing a blanket for an older horse is a good method to ensure it stays warm over the next few months if you live in an area where it is below freezing for extended periods.

If fact, now’s the time to evaluate the winter readiness of any older animal on your farm. Looking at teeth and body condition score can help you assess how an older animal will handle the cold. Additionally, consider how herd mates treat the older animal in the pasture. Some seniors fall to a lower social status within the herd and are bullied, making it hard for them to gain access to food and water.

If you find that an animal on your farm requires a blanket for the winter, here are a few coat considerations to keep in mind:

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  • Make Sure It Fits Properly: A coat that is too large will not properly insulate an animal, while one that is too small will rub and pinch, potentially causing skin sores. A properly fitting coat should be snug but allow room for your fingers to comfortably fit around the edges.
  • See That It’s Clean, Dry And In Good Repair: Putting a dirty coat on an animal is inviting the potential for skin infection. Likewise, if a coat is damp, its ability to provide warmth is negated and can end up chilling an animal if there is wind. Also check for broken buckles and snaps.
  • Don’t Put A Blanket On A Wet Animal: Putting a coat on a wet animal will prevent proper drying and might make the animal chilled.
  • Check Periodically For Areas Of Rubbing: Even properly fitted coats might slip or occasionally rub. Check the coat’s fit from time to time to make sure it still sits comfortably.
  • Guard Against Overheating: Not all blankets are the same. Some are made with heavier material for exceptionally cold weather. Make sure the thickness of the coat is appropriate to the weather, as too much blanketing leads to overheating. Frustratingly, an overheated animal can sweat, which can subsequently cause the animal to chill. Sometimes it’s not easy to observe an overheated blanketed animal, so get your hands on the animal once in a while. If you notice damp hair behind the elbows or along the chest or flank, you might have to choose a lighter blanket or none at all.

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