Top four strategies for keeping your 4-H animal projects healthy in cold weather

Use these four steps to help keep your 4-H animals healthy during the long Michigan winters.

Beef cow standing in snow
Good animal management strategies can help to keep your 4-H projects healthy and happy all winter long. Photo by Julie Thelen.

As the winter temperatures settle in, make sure you are keeping your 4-H projects healthy. Most animals are well adapted to living outside, so for them the cold doesn’t feel the same as to you or me. However, cold temperatures do require additional animal monitoring.

Follow these four steps to make sure your 4-H projects are healthy this winter.

Make sure animals have plenty of fresh air. Although it seems natural to close all the barn doors in the winter, similar to how you seal your house up tight, remember animals are different. To help keep them healthy and prevent the spread of bacteria and viruses, make sure you have adequate ventilation.

Water, water, water! Whether providing water in a bucket, tank or automated system, it is important to check the water each day. If you are like many farms, you have probably experienced a frozen water tank or two. That is why it’s important to check the water supply every day: realizing the issue and reacting to it are essential in keeping animals healthy and on track for market or reproduction. No matter what the temperature, make sure the water you are providing your animals is clean and easily available in adequate amounts.

Know what is in your feed! Knowing the contents and the quality of the feed you are offering to animals is essential in making sure they have adequate nutrition to meet their energy requirements. Researchers at Oregon State University mention the “lowest critical environmental temperatures for livestock vary according to species and researchers, but 20 or 32 degrees Fahrenheit are often used as the lowest temperature dry livestock can tolerate without additional energy demands to support normal body temperature.” Paying attention to the amount of feed consumed as well as the temperature is important in keeping your animal on track!

Pay special attention to young and new animals. Younger animals and especially newborn animals are more susceptible to the cold weather. When new animals are born, make sure they are dried off in a reasonable amount of time. Additionally, remember how crucial it is for animals to receive their first milk, colostrum. If transporting new animals to your farm, make sure you minimize the amount of stress they will encounter as well as provide adequate dry, minimal dust bedding to help reduce the effect of winter chill.

To help youth learn more about animal science, consider using the MSU Extension 4-H Animal Science Anywhere lessons or Animal Care and Well-Being resources. MSU Extension and the Michigan 4-H Youth Development program help to create a community excited about STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics). 4-H STEM programming seeks to increase science literacy, introducing youth to the experiential learning process that helps them to build problem-solving, critical-thinking and decision-making skills. Youth who participate in 4-H STEM are better equipped with critical life skills necessary for future success.

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