Preparing Your Food Animals To Beat The Cold

A rooster and hen in a snowy yard

When the weather dips into cold and freezing temperatures, especially at night, humans stay cozy by turning on heaters and pulling out extra blankets. Food animals, on the other hand, require special preparation to stay warm and survive cold weather conditions.

Dr. Isabelle Louge, a clinical assistant professor at the Texas A&M School of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences, pointed out that the best way to keep food animals warm is to make sure they have enough food.

This is because when animals shiver from the cold to increase their internal body temperature, they use more calories. Using calories without replenishing them by eating can lead to health risks such as losing too much weight. Providing animals, especially those that are still growing, with extra calories will continue to keep them warm as they shiver.

“This is especially necessary for very young animals that are being bottle raised,” Louge said.

Owners who are bottle feeding during the colder months should use milk or milk replacer, mixed according to the manufacturer’s instructions, and ensure the liquid is warmed prior to feeding, according to Louge.

Herbivores, like ruminants, generate more heat after eating hay than grain because hay has more fiber. Herbivore gut microbes, or microorganisms that live in the digestive tract of animals, ferment the fiber in hay, which produces extra heat as a byproduct of the fermentation.

“Grain is very quickly broken down by the fermentation process, while hay takes longer for the bacteria to break down,” Louge explained. “So the longer breakdown process of hay produces more heat over time than grain breakdown.”

If herbivores are fed grain during the winter, Louge advises owners to increase the amount of grain slowly and not give excessive amounts, since overeating can lead to digestive problems and digestive diseases. Local veterinarians can guide owners on the amount to feed their animals.

Omnivores such as pigs and chickens, on the other hand, can warm up by increasing the total amount of feed.

In addition, because water is the most essential nutrient, Louge encourages owners to check their animal’s water every three to four hours to ensure it remains unfrozen during freezing temperatures. Alternatively, owners can use thawing devices and immersible water heaters to keep water thawed for longer periods of time.

“Animals can become dehydrated quickly in the cold,” Louge explained. “Often, one of the challenges is encouraging them to drink when the water is very cold; many do not enjoy drinking water below 60 degrees Fahrenheit. You can sometimes encourage drinking by offering warmer water (50-70 degrees Fahrenheit).”

Another way to keep animals toasty is to provide areas that keep them out of the elements.

“It’s easier to be warm when you are dry and out of the wind,” Louge said. “Very muddy and wet conditions will make an animal’s fur and hair less efficient at trapping heat and chill them much faster as the temperature drops.”

Providing additional heat sources in an animal’s environment can be beneficial, but not all sources of heat, such as heat lamps, are safe for animals. If owners insist on using heat lamps, Louge recommends following the manufacturer’s instructions when hanging lamps and ensuring lamps are hung far away from bedding and the walls to avoid a fire. Additionally, owners should check that their animals cannot reach the lamp.

“In general, I always advise against heat lamps,” Louge shared. “I’ve had too many clients lose their animals to barn fires, even when they were being careful.”

Instead, Louge suggests using deep bedding as an alternative to heat lamps for keeping animals warm during winter weather.

Incorporating these tips into your winter preparation routine is an easy way to keep food animals warm during colder months. By having plenty of food, warm water, and cozy bedding, food animals will remain comfortable, and you can have peace of mind knowing they are safe.

Pet Talk is a service of the School of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences, Texas A&M University. Stories can be viewed on the web at Suggestions for future topics may be directed to

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