How to Prepare Your Animals for Winter Months!!

— Written By and last updated by Margaret Green

“Preparing Your Animals for the Winter Months”

 By:  Martha L. Mobley

Extension Agent, Agriculture

 It is that time of year again and cold, rainy, freezing weather is upon us. Farm animals are calving, kidding and lambing now and I thought I would share some animal tips to keep them healthy during this time.

Cattle Herds

Cattle are comfortable in temperatures around freezing. As temperatures fall below freezing and snow or other moisture occurs, cattle will need extra care to keep warm and functioning. Most cattle can make do with windbreaks. A wooded area is often adequate for this purpose.

 One of the most neglected nutrients during winter is water. Keeping waters open in freezing weather is a top priority. Insufficient space for animals to drink, low flow rates and low storage capacity discourage water consumption. A 500-lb. calf on a 40°F day will drink about 5 gallons of water.

 For pasture systems, use water tanks with capacity of at least a one-day supply. Range cattle usually all drink within a short period of time once or twice per day, so the watering system (pump, pipe diameter, etc.) needs to be able to supply the herd’s entire supply within four hours. Intensive grazing units can exist on smaller water systems, as cattle closer to water will drink in smaller groups.

 Use your best feeds of the year now. With average quality hay, a lactating cow needs 4 to 5 pounds of whole cottonseed, 1½ pounds of cottonseed meal plus 2 pounds of corn or free choice liquid supplement or block plus 2 pounds of corn. A forage analysis of your hay ($10 per sample w/NCDA & CS) permits you to supplement your cows more precisely. A cow/calf pair on average can consume 5 – 6 tons of hay equivalent per year.

 Horses Management during Cold Weather

  •  Monitor weather forecasts to determine cold periods in advance.
  • Increase the dry-matter content of the diet 24 hours prior to forecasted cold conditions.
  • Strive to keep your horse in good body condition prior to winter months.
  • Determine your horse’s critical temperature and adjust digestible energy intake accordingly. The horse’s thick winter coat has an insulating effect against cold and wind. If the coat becomes wet, the critical temperature will increase by 10 to 15 degree F.
  • Increase hay intake to horses in good body condition and “easy keepers.”  A horse should consume at least 1.5 to 1.75% of its body weight as hay during cold periods. Thus, a 1,000 lb. mature horse should consume 15 to 17.5 pounds of hay daily to meet critical temperature needs during cold weather.
  • Increase forage and concentrate (grain) intake for horses in poor condition and “hard keepers.”
  • Supplement fat to increase the energy density of concentrates (grains). The energy density of the concentrate mix can be increased by adding fat in the form of 4 to 8 ounces of a vegetable oil per day, or by the addition of a commercial fat supplement according to label recommendations.
  • Feed the same concentrate (grain diet) as a moist mash during cold periods.
  • Offer 10 gallons of warmed water daily. A 1,100 lb. horse will consume 10 to 12 gallons of water daily. The same 1,100 lb. horse may consume as little as 1 to 3 gallons of water daily when the water temperature is around freezing… so provide warm water to your horse.

For our Dogs and Cats, we need to also have a checklist to keep them warm and healthy during the winter. Here are several tips:

 Outdoor Shelter

  • A shelter should be free from drafts and waterproofed against melting snow and ice
  • Elevated an inch or two off the ground by placing it on a wooded pallet will make it warmer
  • Placed dry bedding, such as straw or a blanket inside
  • The shelter should face away from the wind with flap of cloth covering the entrance
  • The shelter must be the right size for the size of the animal, not too big or too small
  • A shelter should be large enough for the animal to stand up and easily turn around

Food and Water

  • Always have a source of clean, unfrozen water available
  • Eating snow or ice will not provide sufficient moisture to prevent dehydration in your pet
  • Outdoor pets require more food each day to build up fat reserve for staying warmer


  • Continue to groom your pet in the winter
  • A matted coat will not provide the proper insulation against the cold
  • Indoor pets may not have a grown a thick coat for winter and may require a pet sweater before going outside


  • Pets can get frostbite as easily as a human
  • Frostbitten areas may appear red, gray or white
  • Particularly susceptible are the pads on feet, ears and nose
  • Thaw those areas out slowly with a warm, damp cloth and do not rub the frozen areas
  • Take your pet your veterinarian as soon as possible
  • Check the animal’s foot pads to ensure there is no frozen snow or ice in the pads of their feet or cuts on the pads


  • Salt or chemicals used to melt snow may make your pet ill or fatal if ingested when your pet licks its paws
  • The sweet taste and smell of antifreeze makes it a DEADLY poisonous treat to animals
  • Use non-toxic antifreeze and be sure all spills are cleaned up quickly and thoroughly
  • Contact the poison control center or your vet if you suspect any anti-freeze has been ingested


Cats often escape the cold by crawling into vehicle engines, where they can be killed or seriously injured when it is started. Before entering your vehicle, bang on the hood to startle any animal sleeping there.

Many holiday plants can lead to health problems in dogs and cats. Among the plants to keep out of reach are holly, mistletoe, poinsettias and lilies.

I sure hope these tips help keep your animals healthy during the upcoming winter months. For additional information, feel free to contact your local Franklin County Cooperative Extension Office at (919) 496-3344.  Happy Holiday!