Missouri livestock need extra care during a cold winter


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Mid-Missouri has endured cold weather this winter with temperatures ranging from 1 degree to 11 degrees the last week of December. And while people can layer up on the scarves, mittens and coats, livestock do not have the same luxury.

Dr. Ben Potter, an associate veterinarian with Howard County Veterinary Services in Fayette, said livestock that are not cared for properly in cold weather can later have issues with breeding back and overall quality of life. The clinic works with various livestock, and Potter said caring for them can vary depending on the type of animal.

Potter said the Howard County Veterinary Services assists with a large number of cow and calf producers that can be cared for in a number of ways during the winter.

"Make sure the cattle have a dry place to go to," Potter said. "Unrolling hay for them to lay on in wet and or muddy conditions can help keep the cattle warm."

Wind speed definitely affects how cold the cattle can become, he said. Consider putting up wind blocks or allow them access to shelter.

The Mott family, who raise roughly 13 chickens, 12 cattle and 13 sheep in Rocheport, agree. Becky Mott said to make sure warm bedding is available in winter, that wind breaks are in place and feed rations are increased when lower temperatures are present.

"For cattle, they're happy even when it's 30 degrees," Mott said. "The sheep have their wool, which keep them warm. Keeping them out of the wind and keeping them dry are the main things."

Aaron Mott vaccinates sheep In this photo, Aaron Mott vaccinates a pregnant sheep on Friday with an subcutaneous (under the skin) booster shot two to three weeks before the sheep have the lambs.

The Motts take the extra precautions when temperatures fall below 30 degrees.

"Slightly increasing feed rations and making sure cows have a dry place to lay where they are out of the wind is critical,” Mott said. “Unrolling a big round bale of straw or hay for livestock to lay on is a good option."

The Motts’ chickens have a coop within a shed where they can seek shelter. The family also leaves a light on for the chickens in winter, when there is less sunlight.

"They don't lay eggs as well if you don't keep a light on," Mott said.

The family's ewes will be lambing in a few weeks, and their cows will be calving in February. During that time, the Motts monitor their animals around the clock. When the lambs and calves are born, they are wet and cold. Mott said it's important to make sure newborns are dried off and warm.

"Calves have to get up and nurse within the first few hours they are born,” Mott said.

If a calf is too cold, it might not get up to nurse. The first milk, called colostrum, has special antibodies to help protect that calf from disease.

"That's one of the most important jobs livestock producers do during the calving season, making sure each calf gets that critical first meal," Mott said. "We intervene if we think there's a chance that the calf didn't get enough colostrum."

Cow feeder on the Mott farm A feeder on the Mott family farm Friday is filled with rock salt and mineral as a supplement for the cows.

While most cattle are fed a primarily forage-based diet throughout winter, sometimes it helps to supplement cows with grain to give them more energy when temperatures are below 20 degrees Fahrenheit, Potter said.

When farmers add grain-based feed to the cattle's forage-based diet, the animal's rumen will be activated, which warms them up, Potter explained. The Motts use a protein lick tub, which can also take the place of the grain-based feed and serve the same purpose.

"I highly recommend producers test their hay before winter," Potter said. "Resources to test hay can generally be found through most university extension offices."

Hay can also serve as bedding and insulation for livestock.

Jason Mott pointed to a hay ring filled three-quarters with hay, surrounded by three cows lying on small piles of hay around the ring. "It's better than if they had to lay in the snow directly," he said.

When caring for livestock, Becky Mott said layering is key. Karen Grindler, director and founder of Cedar Creek Therapeutic Riding Center, said the same.

"I bought a new pair of gloves this week," Grindler said, "because the ones I was wearing weren’t working good enough. I layer up. I look like a starfish."

Most horses grow thick, winter coats in the winter. That and access to shelter keep horses warm during freezing temperatures, said Grindler, whose riding center keeps 19 horses. Any horse without a natural coat may need extra care.

"Every barn is a little bit different," Grindler said. "The way the horses are treated just depends on the horse itself. If the horse's coat is clipped, it better have a coat and warm barn."

It's also important that livestock have access to water, no matter how cold the temperatures become. Heated water tanks are important to avoid chopping through frozen ponds or water tanks.

Throughout most of the year, the Mott family houses their cattle in a pasture seven miles from home, but during the winter the livestock stay in lots next to their house.

"We bring them home in the winter so we can keep an eye on them," Becky Mott said.

Swift and easy access to their livestock allow the Motts to act quickly if a cow is calving or ewe is lambing, or if any other issues arise.

"It's really important in these extreme temperatures to check at least twice a day on the animals as well, just to make sure they're making it through," Grindler said. "I've never lost an animal — knock on wood — to extreme temperatures."

At the end of the day, no matter the type of livestock a producer owns, one thing remains the same. Each farmer and rancher simply wants the best for the animals.

"The producers I know have a lot of passion for what they do," Mott said. "It's unthinkable we wouldn't take care of them."

Supervising editors are Scott Swafford and Tyler Wornell.

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