Cows and horses are affected by cold-weather similarly to how human beings are affected by it. The major difference between us and them is that horses and cows don’t have warm lorries or tractors to go back into when the weather gets cold. Instead, a cow’s major defence against cold-weather is their warm fur coat. The most difficult times for cows and horses are when the temperature transitions from warm to cold during autumn, as they haven’t had the time to develop thick winter coats. Sudden cold snaps can have major effects on the health and well-being of your animals.
By simply watching out for a few major things, you can prevent against cold stress and ailments produced by the cold. One thing that will add that significant amount of comfort for your animals is to put down rubber or foam mats in their stables. The wide selection of stable mats offered on Stable Mats Ireland are perfect to insulate the floors of your stables.
Cold Stress for Cows
When the temperature drops close to 0°C, it’s time to think about how freezing temperatures can affect your cattle’s productivity and health. The transition period between fall and winter can be one of the hardest times for cattle, as they have fall coats which are more suited for temperatures above 7°C. Eventually, they’ll grow a heavy winter coat which can take -8°C1, but when a sudden cold snap happens, it can wreak havoc on a cow’s ability to withstand cold. This is especially true of cows that are exposed to wind or drafts.
During the cold winter months, cows will also need to increase feed intake in order to keep body weight. The Ministry of Agriculture, Food, and Rural Affairs of Ontario,Canada offers a brilliant analysis of how temperature affects the need for additional feed required to meet a cow’s energy requirements. They mention that when the temperature plateaus at between 0 and-1°C, a cow requires no more extra energy, and they do not need extra hay or grain. However, when the temperature reaches -12°C, a cow will need an extra 20% energy to keep their metabolic rate at a normal level, and this accounts for 1.6 to 1.8 kg of extra hay or 1 kg of extra grain. If the temperature drops to a blistering -23°C, they’ll require an extra 40% energy to maintain their body weight. This accounts for 3.6 kg of extra hay or 2.3 kg of extra grain2.
Therefore, keeping your cows warm during the cold winter months actually has a direct effect on your profits. Colder cows need more food to keep their weight up to and insulate themselves from the cold temperatures. One of the easiest things that you can do is to bed your cows well. Placing foam or rubber stable mats in their stables can make an enormous difference, as the mats help to insulate from the cold temperatures. Stable mats also cut the amount of bedding down by a third, helping you to save a little money as you keep your cow comfortable. Also, try to keep the cows out of wind because wind reduces their body temperature and increases stress on the animals.
Adequate nutrition is also another way to combat the ill effects of cold winter weather on cattle. By increasing feed intake of your cattle, you’ll notice that they’ll be able to maintain their body weight. Also, make sure that there is enough water available for each cow.
How do horses handle the weather?
Horses are incredibly hardy animals, able to stand harsh winter temperatures seemingly without being affected by it in the least. There are two ways that horses keep frozen temperatures: growing a thick winter coat, and utilizing heat saving mechanisms in their legs and feet.
A Warm Winter Coat
As the temperatures drop below zero, horses grow a thick winter coat similar to down filled comforter which insulates their body from the cold. But it’s not just because of how thick their coat is that they’re able to stay warm in cold weather. There are oils inside of their fur which help to shed moisture. This makes them incredibly easy to deal with dry snow in snowstorms. In the coldest storms in the middle of winter, there’s very little moisture in the snow. In fact, dry snow won’t melt or make it past the outer surface of hair coat, and horses can stay warm even in frigid temperatures.
The issue becomes when there is snow with more moisture in it, like when the temperature hovers at 0°C and wet snow falls on your horses. They can easily be drenched with snow as it melts and diffuses into their coat. This is usually what happens near the end of winter and the beginning of spring. During those times, it’s imperative for horses to have dried betting to sit down in.
Rubber stall mats help to cut the amount of bedding that you need and offer a layer of insulation against the cold concrete underneath. Cattle and horses enjoy laying down on rubber because it offers more cushioning.
Feet and Legs
Horse’s feet and lower legs are an evolutionary marvel, as they are designed to handle cold weather without freezing and even chilling the rest of the body. If you’ve ever wondered why horses can stand in deep snow and not suffer from frostbite, it has to do with the fact that they have no muscle mass below the knee or hock. The lower part of a horse’s leg is mostly tendon and bone, and these are not energy requiring tissues3.
Horses also have an intricate system of veins in their feet, which allow them to pump blood back into their body every time the foot takes weight. The blood in their feet provides a hydraulic cushion underneath which helps to ease the impact from each step.
Horses also have a mechanism which allows them to shunt blood away from their feet. This is one way that they cope with cold-weather and prevent against having cold blood pumped back towards their heart, which would then cool down the rest of their body. This mechanism allows them to stand in snow for long periods of time. There’s one drawback to this, however, and that is that if a horse shuns blood away from their feet for prolonged periods of time, it could aggravate chronic laminitis. Laminitis is a condition that affects the tissues bonding on the hoof wall, and can have a detrimental effect on how horses able to walk. Laminitis can be fatal for horses, and, in fact, 7% of equine fatalities occur from laminitis4.
You can turn the tide against diseases caused by cold-weather by simply putting down stall mats in your horse’s stall. There stall mats should be a place where they can rest comfortably, rather than sitting on cold, hard concrete. Even with a good amount of bedding, there are still chances that horses could sit on the cold floor.
Take an Active Step to Winterise Your Barn
Before it gets too cold, take the time to prepare now. Some ways that you can winterize your barn:
- Check All Openings for Drafts: Go through your barn and check to see if there are any drafty areas. Checked the barn door, barn windows, and other areas throughout your barn. If you find any holes, patch them to eliminate drafty areas. A certain degree of air circulation is important, and should be maintained, but keeping your horses out of the elements is an important thing.
- Make Sure Your Horses and Cows Get Some Fresh Air: Respiratory diseases can develop if the air inside of a barn is too stuffy. Consider opening the barn doors from time to time, as long as it doesn’t create a large draft.
3.Maintain the Drinkable Water and Feed: As mentioned above, keeping your cows and horses hydrated and well fed is important to ensure that they are able to keep their weight up throughout the winter. Keep the water ice free by using a heater.
4.Have a Professional Check Your Electrical: It’s a good idea to periodically have an electrician come in to come look at the wiring inside the barn, so that the lights stay on and the heater keeps running even in the coldest and darkest nights of winter.
When you’re dealing with animals, you’ve always got to look out for them because they can’t tell you exactly what they’re feeling. For animals like cattle, cold-weather can have a detrimental effect on the amount of milk that they produce. A study out of the Czech Republic found that a single day of significantly cold-weather can decrease the milk yield by up to 1-2 kg. All it takes is one day, and your cows and horses can be exposed to cold stress, the point at which their metabolic rate drops drastically and they’re not able to warm themselves up.
But, by taking an active step in insulating your animal stalls, you’re effectively helping prevent discomfort which could lead to injury. You can do this by purchasing either rubber or foam stall mats to help dampen the chill cold-weather, whilst taking steps to winterise the stalls with insulation and wind barriers.
Author: David Van Kooten