Skip to Main navigation Skip to Left navigation Skip to Main content Skip to Footer

University of Minnesota Extension

Extension > Extension in your Community > Morrison > County Agriculture Educator > Articles > Winter Care for Livestock

print icon email icon share icon

Winter Care for Livestock

University of Minnesota Extension, Stearns County News
November 26, 2014        
Source:  Emily Wilmes, Extension Educator-Livestock
University of Minnesota Extension
Stearns, Benton & Morrison Counties

Winter Care for Livestock
By Emily Wilmes, University of Minnesota Extension

ST. CLOUD, Minn. (11/19/14) — Whether we were ready or not, winter has blown in upon us.  Snow, ice, and below freezing temperatures can mean big challenges for livestock producers.  Knowing the best way to care for your animals during the winter will ensure they stay happy, healthy, and safe.

The first element of winter livestock care many people consider is shelter.  Although most animals can stand wind chills above 20 degrees, without stress, they need protection from cold rains, wet snow, and wind.  Natural protection and windbreaks may be adequate in some situations, but the best option is a three-sided shed opening away from prevailing winds.  Any shelter should have enough room to allow every animal inside, and have clean, dry bedding that is changed regularly.  Keep in mind that most livestock do not want to be inside all of the time, and they will actively seek out shelter when conditions are adverse.  In addition to a shed, consider the availability of other cover in the cow yard or pasture such as hills, thickets of trees, and windbreaks. 

An often overlooked factor of shelter is ventilation.  Our instinct is to keep shelters sealed up tight in order to keep them warmer, but as I said before, animals can stand colder temperatures than we can.  It is important that no matter where they are, there is good air flow.  Especially with the amount of dust that can get into the air from bedding.  Stuffy, dusty air can lead to respiratory and other problems.  An easy way to check if your livestock have good ventilation is to look at them, and listen.  If they appear to be breathing heavily, or are coughing, that may be a sign that the ventilation is poor.  Be sure to consult your veterinarian if you think there is a respiratory issue.

Besides shelter, another major component of winter care is nutrition.  Animals use a lot more energy in the winter months to keep themselves warm, so some farmers may find it beneficial to increase the energy density of the feed.  Besides energy, also consider the amount of fiber in the diet.  Fermentation of fiber releases energy that helps heat the body.  Good quality grass hay or alfalfa can be an effective way to encourage body heat production.  It is also less expensive than just increasing the amount of grain fed for energy.  Another crucial point of winter nutrition--don’t forget the minerals!  Whether you have cattle, horses, sheep, or goats, make sure you still have a mineral lick, tub, or crumbles available but protected from the elements.

When thinking about feed, you should also be thinking about water--another important part of winter livestock care.  Just like any other time of the year, your animals require clean, fresh drinking water.  Although your livestock can get some of their water from eating snow, keep in mind that, depending on species, your animals will need 3 to 14--or more!--gallons of water each day.  Many farmers find heated waterers to be the most convenient as they usually keep water from freezing.  If you don’t have a heated waterer, you should be bringing fresh water--around 40 degrees--to your livestock several times a day to encourage adequate water consumption. 

Although you may think about managing snow in the winter months, don’t forget about the need to manage the mud as well, as there inevitably will be some.  Besides the possibility of making your livestock dirty and/or wet, standing in mud can also cause problems like hoof rot.  Solutions to livestock standing in mud include laying down gravel or wood chips, moving animals to another location, or creating a sacrifice area in a well-drained spot.

All of these components tie back to keeping your animals safe and healthy during winter.  Be sure you are watching the health of your livestock closely, as winter can be very stressful on an animal’s body.  Pregnant animals especially require a watchful eye.  If you ever have any concerns about the health of your animals, or if you think something may be wrong, be sure to contact your veterinarian. 

Whether or not we were ready for winter, it has arrived.  By paying close attention to your livestock’s shelter, nutrition, water, environment, and health, you will ensure that your animals will make it through our coldest months happy, healthy, and safe.

If you have any questions about winter care for livestock, you can contact the Stearns County Extension Office at 320-225-6169, Benton County Extension Office at 320-968-5077, or Morrison County Extension Office at 320-632-0161.


Emily Wilmes
Extension Educator, Ag Production Systems - Livestock
(320) 255-6169
  • © Regents of the University of Minnesota. All rights reserved.
  • The University of Minnesota is an equal opportunity educator and employer. Privacy