Deep winter creates trouble for livestock

For most people, this winter has been the coldest and snowiest of our lifetime. But as treacherous as it has been for humans, the dangers to livestock and pets can be even worse. “Cows in good body condition and have a good winter coat are fairly tolerant of cold weather,” said Shane Gadberry, professor-ruminant nutrition and extension specialist. “Arkansas cattle are at a disadvantage because they haven't had time to adapt to extremely cold temperatures.
Gadberry said “thin cows, cows with short hair, lactating cows, and Brahman-influenced cattle breeds will have a little tougher time meeting the increased energy needs when it is cold and wet outside.”

There are certainly no snow days for ranchers, who have to be outside, no matter the weather. “Cows will eat more when they are really cold, so it is important to keep plenty of good quality hay in front of cattle at all times and supplement hay that is moderate- to low-quality with grain or grain byproduct-type feeds,” Gadberry said. “Ranchers may want to avoid using range meals
at this time because the salt will make cows want to drink and the bitter cold is making a lot of water sources frozen over and less accessible.

“It is important to break ice and make water accessible to maintain normal water consumption,” he said. “Hopefully this event won't last more than a week.” However, when things start to thaw out, there are still issues ranchers need to worry about.

“When the temperature gets back to normal and the ground thaws, feeding areas may need to be relocated or ranchers may want to start unrolling hay to keep feeding sites distributed over larger areas to avoid creating deep mud tracks,” Gadberry said. “Deep mud makes it difficult for cattle to get to hay and eat as much as they could otherwise.”

Dr. Elisabeth Giedt, director of Continuing Education, Extension and Community Engagement at the Center for Veterinary Health Sciences at Oklahoma State University says domestic animals are at risk as well.

“As pretty and soft as your pet’s fur is, it isn’t necessarily the perfect insulator, especially when the temperatures are extreme or when the fur gets wet,” Giedt said. “Compare it to being outside wearing a t-shirt when it’s below freezing. Your pet’s toes, nose and ears are especially susceptible to winter weather, too.”

If you suspect your pet has frostbite, cover the animals with warm towels. Gently pat dry the affected area and contact your veterinarian.

While winter weather can be hard on any pet, very young animals, as well as older dogs and cats, should not be kept outdoors. Giedt said these young pets simply do not have the fat, metabolism or the full fur coat they need to stay warm.

The best option for pet safety during the winter is to keep them indoors. If your pet is a full-time outdoors animal, it is imperative to provide adequate shelter from the elements. A covered enclosure with blankets or clean hay/straw/cedar shavings is a must. Another option is a heated floor mat.

“Try to face the opening of the shelter away from the wind. Also, if it rains and the bedding gets wet, replace it with dry bedding,” she said. “Wet bedding can grow bacteria and mold, which are not healthy for your pet.”

It is no secret exercise is good for both humans and their pets. For those who enjoy a nice walk with your pet, sidewalks and walking trails are likely to have been salted if there is ice or snow on the ground. While this is beneficial for humans to help keep them from slipping and sliding, salt can cause irritation on an animal’s foot pads.


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