Wind chill affects cattle just like it affects people. Intense cold weather can leave cattle struggling, from trouble putting on weight to maintaining their normal milk production. Plus, cold weather can leave them stressed as they attempt to go about their normal activities. Luckily, there are many ways you can keep your livestock happy and healthy during even the most brutal of winters.
Among the most important steps to providing a stress-free winter for your cattle is creating proper shelter. The goal is to keep cattle out of the wind as much as possible. This is critical to reduce your feed costs too, since chilled livestock will have increased energy requirements. To provide your cattle adequate shelter, consider three-sided sheds placed throughout your pastures. You can put up a homemade windbreak, create one out of bales, or install a permanent windbreak. Hills, gullies, thickets of trees, and shelterbelts also provide protection from the wind. This will allow cattle to escape the harsh weather, as needed.
It’s also crucial to pay attention to the weather forecast. When you know there’s a winter storm coming, it’s best to keep cattle close to the barn or near a shelter. That’s one of the benefits of temporary electric fencing – you can control where your cattle are at all times.
Additionally, be sure to winterize the barn and any other shelter buildings on the farm. Proper barn winterizing can begin as early as late summer. But, if you’re late to the game getting started on your barn winterization checklist, don’t fret – it won’t take more than a few weeks to prepare everything for the harsh weather or a long cold season.
First things first: Remove old birds' nests, cobwebs, dust and debris to make the barn more comfortable for your cattle. Removing this material also reduces fire risk and gives you the opportunity to closely inspect every corner of the barn for any needed repairs. Perhaps you’ll come across roof leaks, draft holes, etc. that need to be patched up in the process.
Next, carefully inspect the roof and make repairs as necessary to prevent any further leaks. Clean out rain gutters and close any roof vents that are not needed for winter ventilation. (Note: it is necessary to close some vents and block drafts to help keep the barn warm in winter, but do not seal the barn up completely). Be sure roof shingles are securely fastened to withstand potential high winds, and check that there are no areas where ice will build up dangerously on the roof to cause long-term damage.
Finally, check all electrical wiring in the barn to be sure there are no exposed wires or other fire hazards. Ensure fuses, circuit breakers, and outlets are grounded and test all bulbs to be sure they are working properly.
This is by no means an exhaustive list of ways in which you can winterize your cattle’s shelter, but these tips are certainly the most important to check off of your list before the blistering cold winds head your way!