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Take Care of Lactating Livestock in Extreme Cold

January 23, 2014
Cold Weather Cow
The recent decrease in temperatures should have livestock producers a little more concerned for lactating animals.  
 
 

By: Aimee Neilson, University of Kentucky Extension

Near-record lows and bitter wind chills have taken over much of the U.S. and livestock producers can take precautions to ensure the safety of lactating animals.

"Perhaps the most important thing producers can do is to take care of themselves in this extreme cold," said Michelle Arnold, University of Kentucky College of Agriculture, Food and Environment extension veterinarian. "If you get into trouble, you can’t be the caregiver to your livestock that you want to be."

When checking on livestock, producers should keep an extra set of clothes and a blanket in their truck. If producers get wet while doing chores, it’s important to have dry clothes to change into and avoid hypothermia. An extra pair of dry boots is a great plan as well.

When caring for any animal, water is critical. Livestock need water to maintain their health and their immune system.

"Lactating animals have an even higher need for water than young stock animals and mammals in their dry periods," Arnold said. "Livestock will not eat as much if they don’t have water available, and the immediate result will be less milk production."

Producers should check water sources several times a day. Arnold also warned that animals that consume salt without water available are at an increased risk for salt poisoning that can result in death.

Cold temperatures also increase animals’ needs for maintenance energy. Producers can either increase the animals’ feed intake or increase the energy density of the diet by feeding higher quality hay or adding more grain or fat to the grain mix.

"Consider separating younger and thinner animals that may not have the same internal insulation as conditioned, older animals," Jeff Lehmkuhler, University of Kentucky College of Agriculture, Food and Environment extension beef specialist said. "Supplement them accordingly or offer them higher quality forage if you have it available."

For dairy animals, producers should make sure teats are dry before turning animals out when the temperatures fall below 25 degrees Fahrenheit.

"Winter teat dips (powdered) can help reduce the chance of frostbite," Arnold said.

Treat signs of frostbite immediately since damage to the teat ends can quickly lead to damage of the keratin seal. That can in turn, allow mastitis-causing bacteria to enter the udder.

Most livestock can handle short periods of cold pretty well. External insulation is basically the depth and thickness of the hair coat and the thickness of the hide. Wind is a bigger enemy to livestock than the actual temperature.

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