Take proper care of your animals, livestock during extreme cold

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While writing this on Monday morning of this week it is snowing hard and predictions are 10 to 15 inches total accumulation. By the time you read this you will know what we really ended up with. The way it is coming down I am sure the kids and grandkids will be loving it!
The snow this time is not much of a threat to livestock. Many times when we get snow here in central Kentucky it starts as rain, the temperature drops and the precipitation turns to snow. The livestock get wet and undergo extreme stress as the temperature drops through the freezing point. As written here before, the critical temperature where wet cattle start undergoing cold stress is about 58 degrees. If dry their hair coat provides good insulation and they don’t experience stress until the temperature gets down to about 18 degrees. The ability of a dry hair coat to insulate was evidenced this morning as the snow was accumulating on the cattle and not melting. They look like giant snowballs out in the fields.
The other advantage we have with this storm is the ground is frozen so there is no mud. Mud around feeding and watering areas is dangerous for cattle in two ways. When it gets on them, whether on their legs as they stand in mud or on their bodies if they lay in it, it takes away the insulating capability of their hair coat. Then, trying to move through the mud takes tremendous energy, which can sap the strength of stressed animals. Mud is extremely hard on young calves, especially as they try to stay close to their mothers and get in the mud around feeders. This will probably be a big issue whenever the temperatures warm up and all of the snow starts to melt.
For now though the biggest problems will be a result of the extreme cold predicted for today and tomorrow. Temperatures well below zero with wind chills below -15 create extreme stress for livestock. The best things you can do are to provide shelter from the wind and make sure animals have adequate feed high in energy. As animals lose heat they need energy to replace that lost to the environment. It can come from their own energy reserves or feed they take in. If they are already thin it is harder for them to make heat from their own bodies. Even animals in good condition can suffer hypothermia if temperatures are low enough and they don’t get enough energy from the feed they are given.
These conditions are when it is good to know the nutrient content of your hay. Recall last winter when we had extreme conditions and many farmers lost livestock, even though the cattle had free access to all of the hay they could eat. Low quality hay could not replace the energy lost to the air due to the extreme cold and in some cases animals died with full stomachs. If you know the quality of your hay this year, feed the highest quality now. If you never sampled your hay, make the assumption it is low quality and feed an energy supplement. If your fescue hay was cut anytime from June 1 through the end of August you can be almost guaranteed it is not of sufficient quality to get animals through an extended period of extreme cold without weight loss and potential hypothermia. The best feeds for quick energy are corn and soyhulls. For cows that don’t have a calf yet, 5 to 6 pounds of either will be sufficient, for those with calves 9 to 10 pounds are needed. Corn for an extended period at these higher levels can cause digestive issues so soyhulls are preferred, but if corn is all you have, give them at least six pounds until the weather warms up. If your hay is low in protein but has plenty of energy, such as some of the warm season grasses, giving some protein in the form of corn gluten or distillers grains will improve the digestibility of the hay. Ten pounds of a 50/50 mix of soyhulls and corn gluten will work very well with any hay you may have available.
Make sure the animals have plenty of water. Feed intake goes down as water intake is reduced. If water is frozen and they eat less as a result, bad things can happen!
In the event you do lose livestock, the reporting requirements for the USDA Livestock Disaster Program have changed. All losses must be reported within 30 days of their occurrence. Pictures, records and receipts for having dead animals hauled from the farm should be turned in to the FSA office as soon as possible. This is now a permanent program so you can’t wait for them to announce the program and then turn in all of your losses at one time. Also, USDA takes into account a normal death loss, so only losses in excess of what they consider normal are considered for payment. All losses, whether disaster related or otherwise need to be reported within thirty days of occurrence. For details, call the FSA office at 270-692-3351.
Lastly, take care of yourself! Dress warm and take a cell phone or make sure someone knows where you will be and for how long.
We will hold a two part QuickBooks training class for Farmers here at the Marion County Extension Office on Tuesday, Feb. 24, and Tuesday, March 10, from 6 p.m. and until 9 p.m. Thanks to sponsorship by Ag Credit here in Lebanon and Farm Credit in Campbellsville there will be no charge for the two classes, however, space is limited so we will need you to call the office at 270-692-2421 to reserve a spot.
The next beekeepers meeting will be Wednesday, March 11, at 6:30 p.m. at the Marion County Extension Office.
Educational programs of Kentucky Cooperative Extension serve all people regardless of race, color, age, sex, religion, disability, or national origin.