Bundled up in scarfs, hats and gloves, families across the country are bracing for ice and snow with wind chills in the single digits. As children build snowmen and parents curse the wind while clearing snow off their vehicles, farmers and ranchers are making sure their animals stay comfortable. Farmers are the 24/7 caretakers of livestock and poultry – whether it’s 64 degrees or -2 degrees!
Broiler chickens (raised for meat) are usually raised indoors, so they don’t have to worry about the cold weather. All modern chicken houses have a computer system that controls the lights, temperature and ventilation. When chicks arrive to the farm from the hatchery, the houses are pre-warmed to feel like summertime. As the chickens grow, they’ll be able to more easily regulate their body temperatures, so farmers turn the thermostat dial down 10-20 degrees.
Turkey barns also come equipped with fancy computer systems to ensure the temperature is just right for the birds, especially with a lot of turkey farms in Minnesota where it often gets into the negative digits!
Pigs and cattle
Pigs are also typically raised inside where farmers can set the temperature. Piglets need extra help staying warm, so they sleep under heating lamps with the barn temperature set at about 85. Similar to broiler chickens, once they are older the farmers adjust the thermostat to a comfortable 65.
Taking care of cattle in the winter is a bit different compared to pigs and poultry as most cows are outside and/or in barns with open doors/curtains, but that doesn’t mean the level of care is any less. If it gets frigid, dairy farmers can close the curtains, but did you know adult cows actually prefer cooler temperatures?
Calves on the other hand need a little extra help keeping warm. Dairy farmers give calves jackets, extra hay and make sure they stay dry. Extra feed is given to beef cattle and water buckets are always checked to ensure they don’t freeze. Cattle also have much thicker skin than humans, so they are able to handle the chilly winters without shivering.
Animal care comes first
Jacob White, a college student studying agriculture who helps his family on their Oregon beef ranch, remembers how last year’s snowfall was a bit too cold for a newborn calf, but his mom and dad jumped into action and made sure the calf received the best animal care:
“Rural eastern Oregon was hit with an unexpected two feet of snow last February. Usually, the majority of snowfall comes around December with never more than a few inches. At the crack of dawn, my dad was up, hooking the snowplow up behind the tractor. He was on his way to plow trails in the snow for the cattle herd to reach water. Mom followed closely behind with a trailer of fresh straw for the cattle to lay on.
With the unexpected cold front, this also meant increasing the amount of hay the cattle consumed to sustain their health in the cold weather. Windbreaks (tall and wide wooden structures to give the cows shelter from the wind) had been put up in the months prior and the “the girls” (female cows, as my dad likes to call them), were enjoying a fresh hay bale of alfalfa. All was well, or so my dad thought.
Changing weather conditions can also cause stress for the cow and sometimes induce birthing earlier than expected. On this cold and snowy day, exactly that had happened. After giving birth, the mother cow had done what she was biologically conditioned to do—lick her new offspring clean and stand the calf up for the first taste of colostrum (nutrient-rich milk of the cow present after the cow gives birth). But the newborn calf was cold, perhaps too cold on the brisk day.
Seeing this, my dad did what any rancher would do – anything and everything to ensure this newborn calf’s survival. Cautiously approaching the cow, he scooped up the calf and placed it on the floorboard of his truck with the heater going full force. Hightailing back to the barn, the calf was placed under a heat lamp and given a nutritional milk supplement. A few short days later, the calf was in full health and frolicking in the fresh snow.
While this seems like an anomaly, it goes to illustrate the genuine passion and care agriculturalists have for the animals they raise. When temperatures drop, the health and well-being of the herd are on the forefront of a rancher’s mind.”
Now you know how farm animals aren’t freezing in this winter weather. Because farmers and ranchers care!
Casey is the communications manager at the Animal Ag Alliance. She creates content and manages social media, speaks to agriculture groups, engages with trade media and manages the Alliance website to help connect consumers with factual information about modern agriculture. Follow her on Twitter (@CaseyKinler). The views and opinions expressed are strictly those of the author.