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Animals Need Extra Care in Winter

Published: Friday, January 12, 2018

The following is from Katie Ockert, Michigan State University Extension educator.

Winter is upon us! Preparing for and utilizing a few easy techniques on your farm will help you manage your herd successfully during the cold, winter months.


Ensuring your herd has access to fresh, clean water is essential to their health. In the winter, battling frozen water buckets and tanks can be a challenge. By utilizing tank heaters, heated buckets or automatic waterers, water is kept ice-free and at a temperature the animal is comfortable drinking.

Products that utilize electricity, such as tank heaters and heated buckets, should be checked with a voltmeter to ensure there is no current running through the water. Any electrical current will deter animals from drinking from the water tank or bucket. By inserting one end of the voltmeter in the water tank and the other into the ground, you will get a reading that will indicate if there is a problem. Make sure to check this often.

The University of Wisconsin Extension has published a water consumption chart that outlines the amounts of water certain species will consume per day. Ensuring that your animal is consuming enough water each day is critical to their overall health and wellbeing.


Most animals need some shelter during the winter months, however their natural winter coats allow them to endure cold temperatures. Humans oftentimes are prone to making the winter environment for their animals too warm, which is unhealthy for animals. Michigan State University Extension recommends the following factors to consider when evaluating the housing of your animals:

• Air quality. Is there adequate ventilation to help dispel respiration gasses and manure odor? Poor ventilation can cause irritation in the animal's lungs and lead to pneumonia.

• Dry bedding areas. Dry bedding provides insulation from the cold ground and helps decrease the amount of energy animals use to keep them warm.


Animals must maintain their energy reserves in order to endure cold temperatures. They also need food for growth and maintenance. During cold weather, it may be necessary to increase the amounts of good quality feed and forages. Supplying adequate amounts of feed is essential in your herd's wellbeing through the winter months.

Rodent control

Rodents are a problem throughout the year, but it seems that in the wintertime, the challenge is exacerbated. According to University of Massachusetts Extension's "Rodent Control on Farms," a general rule of thumb is there are approximately 25 mice or rats for every one you see.

You can take precautionary measures, which sometimes in the winter seem more challenging because of temperatures, such as remembering to maintain good housekeeping around and in the barn. Old feedbags and piled up items such as building materials provide perfect hiding places for rodents, so keep things picked up. Cover all feed bins or secure bags of feeds in containers, such as bins or covered cans to keep rodents out. Also, reduce feed spillage as much as possible.

Sometimes it can be hard to stay motivated to provide the best care for your animals during the short and cold winter days, but providing the best possible care for your animals is worth the extra effort.

To learn more about Michigan 4-H Animal Science Programs and life skill development, visit the Michigan 4-H website.

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