Winter can be a slog through cold mud that won’t freeze or a frozen tundra to slip on. Be it cold rain or a blizzard, farmers can’t take a bad weather day off from going out and taking care of their animals.
And when we’re done with chores, we can come back inside to the warmth of our homes.
But what about the animals? How do we keep them warm?
Well, for starters most animals from dogs and horses to goats and cows, grow their own winter coats to help stay warm. These coats tend to be fluffy which traps body heat in. As long as an animal is dry, these winter coats work very well.
However, if animals get wet, they get cold. And if the wind is blowing, it steals away that body heat. So having shelter for animals to get in out of the wet and the wind is essential. Animal shelters, be it the barn, the shed, or the dog house, need to have an area that blocks the wind.
But no shelter should be airtight.
Shutting animals in can help keep them warm, however if there is no air flow at all, that can lead to breathing troubles and pneumonia. Shelters should block the wind and weather and also have some airflow to keep your animals’ lungs happy.
Something else to help keep animals warm in their shelters is deep, dry bedding. Remember, damp and wet are the enemy, but deep bedding allows animals to snuggle in out of the wind, creating a pocket of warmth.
Besides their winter coats and a good shelter, animals should also be eating more feed during the winter to help them maintain a good body condition, and also to stay warm. Food provides energy to animals that they use for building muscle, laying down fat, growing, etc.
But in the process of digestion to get that energy, a lot of heat is produced! So feeding your animals well also helps to keep them warm. Good nutrition helps keep animals healthy and in good condition which helps them withstand cold temperatures.
If they are too thin, they can’t stay warm. Getting your hands on your animals to assess body condition is essential during the winter because those fluffy winter coats can actually hide poor body condition.
You should be able to feel ribs, but not get your fingers in between them. If you can get your fingers in between your animal’s ribs, you need to increase their feed.
Having warm water is also a good thing because it encourages animals to drink. Cold water chills them so they don’t drink it as much during the winter.
Horses are especially vulnerable to colicking during the winter when they don’t take in enough water. We don’t reach for an ice-cold lemonade during the winter, we reach for the hot tea and hot chocolate. Our animals are the same way.
So the essentials for keeping your animals warm during the winter months are having good body conditions, good shelters that block the wind and wet, but not airflow, deep bedding, and plenty of good feed with warm water if possible.
But when these aren’t enough, or you get an animal who needs a little more help staying warm, there are other things you can do.
Some animals can be blanketed to help supplement their winter coats.
Horse blankets come in all different sizes, and foal blankets can fit goats, llamas, and alpacas. Just make sure the coat stays dry, because again, wet and damp are the enemy during winter.
Heat lamps can also be a help, but you have to be careful. Keep the light and the cords up where the animals can’t reach them. Broken lights can lead to fires and chewing on cords to electrocution.
Lamps should be positioned in a corner or other sheltered area out of the wind. Animals should be able to get under the heat lamp if they want to, but also need to be able to get away from it if they get too warm.
Keeping animals warm in the winter can be a challenge, but keeping these things in mind can help you keep them happy and healthy.
Dr. Hanninen is a 2013 graduate from Ohio State University College of Veterinary Medicine. In January of 2014, Dr. Hanninen purchased a mobile veterinary practice in northwest Pennsylvania, and returned to her home region to help fill the need for a mobile veterinarian for small ruminants, camelids, horses, and pets who can’t get in to a vet clinic.
Her practice, Northwest PA Veterinary Service, is purely mobile and stretches across seven counties in Pennsylvania and into eastern Ohio.
If you live in northwestern Pennsylvania or eastern Ohio you can contact Dr. Hanninen at (814) 573-7013