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Farm animals need protection from elements, experts say

By Staff | Jan 10, 2011

People don’t think twice about winterizing their homes. Animal experts say livestock and pets need the same treatment.

It’s an annual rite of passage in the upper Midwest to cover windows, seal cracks, tune up furnaces and add insulation to keep homes toasty from December through March. While animals are more tolerant of the cold than humans, they still need attention to survive arctic temperatures.

Animals that spend most of their time outdoors grow longer hair and pack on extra fat to handle the snow and cold. Livestock experts say providing some sort of dry shelter – not necessarily fully heated and enclosed – and ample food and water is all most of them need.

Just keeping water from freezing, though, isn’t good enough in some cases. According to Living the Country Life magazine, water should be heated to at least 37 degrees for cattle and 65 degrees for horses to keep them healthy.

Animal experts suggest farmers inspect tank heaters and get them serviced if needed.

Chris Lichty, a veterinarian at the Hudson Vet Clinic, said business is often brisk in the winter. Calls to cure gastrointestinal problems in horses are common, he said. Water that’s too cold or the lack of it is often to blame.

“Horses get impacted or backed up. You have to watch animals a little closer,” Lichty said.

To make a horse feel better, Lichty said vets will put oil in the animal’s stomach to help the animal have a bowel movement.

Iowa State University Extension livestock experts suggest farmers feed more food when the mercury drops. This helps keep animals warm. Dry bedding, such as corn stalks and straw, is also a must.

Tom Greiner of rural Cedar Falls regularly grinds up and spreads a corn stalk bale for his 80 stock cows so they stay healthy.

“Cattle can generate a tremendous amount of heat. You keep bedding fresh, and they’ll stay warm and dry,” Greiner said.

For animals in climate-controlled confinement buildings, a power outage is a big concern. Electricity is needed for ventilation systems and automatic feeders and waterers.

Producers say extended periods without power can be harmful, even deadly. Greiner continually monitors his hog building and has a generator at the ready just in case.

“I don’t mind the cold, but the snow creates a lot of work,” Greiner said.

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