As I write this post, it is 11/7/22 and it is 83* outside. We live in a pretty mild winter climate here in Georgia, we do have some pretty cool/ cold weather. We’re not talking about -50 temperatures here. But we, and our animals are not used to severe winter weather. When it comes to taking care of livestock in the winter, there are a lot of things that you can do to help keep livestock warm in winter.
Keeping Livestock Warm
There are a lot of different variables to consider before you just dump a load of pine shavings into their shelter and call it a day. You need to consider your climate, animals, and resources before you just start throwing options out there to see what sticks. If you live in an area that rains a lot but doesn’t get too cold, you may not need to worry so much about deep litter bedding and may need to focus more on where the shelter is located.
I’m going to go through all the considerations that you should consider before you pick a method. At the bottom of this post, I’ll go through all the different methods you can use to help keep your livestock warm in winter.
Depending on where you live will ultimately depend on how much you have to do to keep them warm. If you live in the far north, you may need deep bedding, water bucket warmers, and draft free shelters. In the south, you can get away with a three sided shelter and hammer to break ice.
We live in the Northeast Georgia Mountains, basically the foothills of the Appalachian Mountains. Our summers are hot and humid, but our winters are pretty mild. Occasionally, we get snow but more often than not we get ice storms. Our winters tend to be very wet, too. That being said, we don’t REALLY need to operate with a deep litter method but we do anyways.
Something that you need to consider is that the vast majority of animals do not require all the things we think they do when it comes to keeping them warm. They have great winter coats that will keep them nice and toasty warm. I talked in depth about body condition of goats in this post, but I want to further that. If your animal has good body condition, a healthy coat, and good food? They don’t need coats, blankets, or other methods to keep them warm in the winter.
In fact, most livestock don’t really need other heating until the temperatures are steadily below 40*. Of course this assumes that they have good body condition, aren’t sick, etc. The key here is shelter and body condition
The resources you may need; barns/shelters, heated waterers, pine shavings, etc are really all going to depend on what methods you decide work for you and your animals. Because not one size will fit all when it comes to your herd.
Methods To Keep Livestock Warm
Before you go dump resources, let’s talk about some situations and options.
You live in Illinois. Your average winter is 36in of snow fall and 27*. If you have one goat, one pig and a couple of chickens. You are probably going to want to consider a barn and the deep litter method. But if you’ve got 5 pigs and a couple of chickens, you could feasibly just have a good layer of straw or pine shavings and a 3 sided shelter.
You live in Maine. Your average snow fall is about 20ish inches and temperature is roughly 3*. But you live on the coast and it’s windy. You probably need a barn if you only have a few animals. If you have multiple of the same species, you could get away with only having a three sided structure.
Why? Well, when you have multiple of the same species, they will cuddle together to stay warm. If you only have a few of each kind, they may not snuggle up and that can cause their body temperatures to drop.
Finally, you live in Georgia. Your average snow fall is 1in a year (if your lucky) and temperature is 40*. But it’s Georgia so you may end up in a freak hurricane, tornado and snow storm in the same week. You’ve got one of a couple different types of animals. You could get away with a dog igloo and some straw. Literally. It doesn’t matter if you have 100 animals. Get more dog igloos. It’ll be cheaper.
Things You Can Do To Keep Them Warm
Deep Litter– This is probably my favorite during the winter but most hated chore in the spring. With a deep litter method, you pretty much dump a new bag of pine shavings or straw on top of the old bedding. Some people will spot clean the urine and feces, but we don’t. As the shavings, feces and urine break down (compost), it will create more heat for the goats. This method works well for us because we don’t have to worry as much if a goat gets “left out” by the other goats. Unfortunately, come spring, this is a monster chore.
Heaters– I’m not a fan of heaters in a barn because of the fire hazard. BUT sometimes they are necessary. Whether it’s small kids, piglets, or a really cold night, you do what you gotta do. I really like this one. The fire hazard is greatly reduced. Another option is to have all of your animals together in a barn. They can have their own separate areas but the more animals together, the more heat they will all produce.
Feed– This is a big one for ruminants, but all mammals create heat by digesting food. That being said, during the summer we don’t keep food in the barn. In the winter, they get a full bag of hay every night. If they eat it, they stay warm. If they spill it? They still stay warm with the bedding. Our animals have pretty much unlimited access to feed during winter. While that may seem counter productive, especially when feed may be hard to come by, it will help ensure they survive the winter.
Drafts/ Wind– If you are putting them in a three sided shelter, make sure that the wind can’t get in. Since most winter winds come from the north, make sure to face the opening to the south. But make sure to check your area and see which direction the wind comes from. For drafts, this is similar to the winds, but a little different. We want airflow in the barn but not so much that it creates cold spots that the animals have to heat up. The best way to do this is to have south opening “vents”. On our barn, we just cut the T1-11 so that top was open on the south side.
Reducing Moisture– Hypothermia is a thing. We learned in childhood that after a day of playing in the snow, we needed to come inside, take off our wet clothes and get warmed up. Well, it’s similar with livestock, except they can’t take off their clothes. We want to keep moisture reduced as much as possible. To do this, we make sure roofs don’t leak, rain can’t come in, and the ground is dry. The deep litter method can come in here because you can add bedding to the areas that are wet to help absorb them.
Maintaining Good Body Condition– I cannot stress this enough! If you are growing animals for meat, or you’ve got pregnant or lactating animals, you HAVE TO maintain good body condition. If your animal does not have good body condition going into winter, they will not be able to stay warm. We almost lost Champ this past winter due to poor body condition AND being pregnant. Everything she ate went to keeping herself warm and her babies alive. Thankfully, everyone pulled through (except two still born kids). This year we have been on top of their feed and body conditions and hopefully, this won’t be a problem. If you are raising meat animals, it’s the same thing, if they are not fed enough they will lose their conditioning and they will eat to stay warm vs eat to get to market weight.
Heading Into Winter
Winter is a time to sit back, relax and enjoy your bounty from the year. It’s also a time for planning for next year. There are chores to do, but as a whole winter is a resting season. If you can prepare now, before it’s too cold, you will find yourself and your animals will be able to rest as well.
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