After spending 5 years managing a horse farm in the Texas Panhandle, I have come to greatly appreciate our mild Florida winters! Although it’s pretty unlikely that any of us will be busting ice 3-5 times per day in negative temperatures and snow, our livestock still require some extra care through the winter months.
According to the National Weather Service (NOAA) predictions, we can expect temperatures to be slightly above the average normal for this time of year and less precipitation than normal, as a result of the La Niña weather pattern.
The #1 Thing for All Livestock: Water
During the winter, livestock may decrease their water intake due to the cooler temperatures. An easy way to help ensure that your animals drink water throughout the day is to add a little salt to their feed. You can use simple table salt that you get from the grocery store. It’s important not to give them too much. When you add it to their feed, think about salting a meal for your whole family, like soup. You don’t want the soup to be too salty, you want it just right. If an average person weighs about 150 lb, a 1,000 lb horse or steer weighs the same as about 6.5 people! So salt your animal’s feed accordingly based on that logic.
How do I know if my animal is drinking enough?
For many of us, using automatic waterers is a way to take one less thing off our plates when it comes to caring for our animals. The downside to automatic waterers is that we can’t tell how much our animals are drinking. On cold days or when you may be concerned your animal isn’t getting enough water, it may be wise to disconnect your automatic waterers and use buckets or troughs so that you can gauge how much your animal is drinking. Horses and cattle need an average of 10 gallons of water a day, swine need an average of 4 gallons per day, and market sheep will need 2-3 gallons per day. A safe way to estimate the needs of your animal is to assume they need about 1 gallon per 100 lb of body weight.
Special Considerations for Swine
Our swine friends are the neediest of the typical livestock species when it comes to winter care. This is because they lack dense hair coats like the other species, so we have to work a little harder to keep them comfortable in cool weather. To help keep them warm, provide them with shelter to block the wind, some sort of shavings, and a heat lamp where they bed down to sleep at. All of these things will help keep them warm and aid in the prevention of illness!
Special considerations for Horses
Good news! Unless you’re planning to show your horses in the winter to early spring months (December – March), your horse can probably survive comfortably without much help from you. However, if you ARE planning to enter the show ring, your horse suddenly becomes needier than our swine friends.
In the show ring (particularly hunter and western performance classes), a sleek coat is more appealing to the judge than a fuzzy winter coat. We can manage our horses’ coats and help them to shed early (if you’re starting now) or keep them from growing a winter coat at all [if you start(ed) in early-mid November)!
Managing Your Horse’s Winter Coat
In November, the time changed so that it started getting dark earlier. Did you find yourself feeling sleepy a little earlier than normal? Horse coat growth is regulated by the hormone “melatonin”, which you may recognize as a supplement used for helping people sleep. The same hormone that makes us sleepy, regulates coat growth in horses. Melatonin is secreted by the pineal gland. Secretion of melatonin is regulated by sunlight. When sunlight enters the eye, the information is translated to the pineal gland to decrease melatonin secretion. In darkness, melatonin is secreted freely by the pineal gland. As the days get shorter in the fall, decreased melatonin secretion results in increased coat growth to help keep the horse warm through the coming winter. As days lengthen again in the spring, they begin to shed their winter coats.
In order to manage your horse’s coat growth, all you need is a little light! It’s important to make sure that the entire area where they stay overnight is well lit. This might mean building a small catch pen if your horses are on pasture. The light doesn’t need to be on at all times, your horse just needs to be exposed to light for 16-18 hours per day. For example, if the sun comes up at 7 AM and sets at 6 PM, your lights would need to be on from about 5:30 PM until about midnight. To make this more manageable, you can purchase lights with timers that can be set to come on and turn off when needed. You may also consider blanketing your horse. The horse probably doesn’t truly need it, but it can give you some peace of mind that they’re not cold, especially if there is a freeze.
Forage Availability for Grazing Animals
If you raise cattle or sheep, your responsibilities are pretty low for winter maintenance. One problem you might run into, however, is forage availability, especially for pasture-kept stock. During the winter months, it’s important that these animals have enough forage to meet their nutritional requirements. Additionally, their nutrition requirements may increase and you may notice your animals eating more when temperatures are low. This is because the digestion of forage aids in keeping the body temperature of animals up and helps them stay warm.
Temperatures don’t fall enough to worry much about adverse effects on the health of cattle, sheep, and horses, as long as they consume adequate water and forage. Their dense coats provide plenty of warmth from the mild winters in Florida. However, if you are concerned about the comfort of your animal on the colder days of the winter, you can always provide them with heat lamps, extra bedding and/or blankets to help them stay warm.
Good luck getting your animals through this winter! If you have any questions about caring for your animal, you can always reach out to your club leader, local extension professional, or veterinarian!