Cold Weather Means Extra Care When Feeding Your Animals

January 7, 2014 - 1:58pm

Wow. It sure is cold outside.

You must have heard this if you have ever lived in Saskatchewan during the winters. It's the conversation starter everywhere!

This winter, so far, has seemed colder than usual and that has got many people asking,” What should I feed my animals in this cold?”

This is a great question to ask whether you are talking pets or livestock, so let's deal with each separately.

Although some people disagree, there are dogs and cats that live their entire lives outside, or rather, not in OUR houses. These may be farm working dogs, sled dogs or barn and feral cats. As long as they have a place to escape the elements such as wind and precipitation, most are quite happy to stay outside. They must have a three sided shelter with a roof and it should be insulated. Straw makes an excellent insulator/ bedding as blankets and beds can retain moisture and make the pet cold.

When it comes to feeding the outdoor pets in this cold weather, you will have to increase the amount! First off they must go into winter at a healthy weight, because it is very hard to gain weight in winter if they are expending all of their extra energy to keep warm.

They should also have water to drink, not just snow to eat. It is hard for them to increase their food intake if they aren't taking in sufficient water for their guts to work, therefore they may become cold!

Heated water dishes and pails can be the solution for this. Watch for signs of excessive shivering, frozen paws etc. and deal with them immediately.

In some instances dealing with livestock is similar. I prefer to feed my horses and cows free choice in the winter, especially in this cold weather. That is not a choice some people can make so you must adjust your feeding accordingly. I suggest you feed a good quality forage and, if you don't have access to that , you may have to supplement with a manufactured pellet or grain.

As it gets colder, the animals will eat more, again, like the pets to keep themselves warm. If they eat too much poor quality forage like straw, they may become impacted. Basically, their guts can't move the feed through their system fast enough.

It is always a good idea for you to get your feed tested so you know what kind of quality you are dealing with.

Unlike a pet food bag, the bales don't come with a tag with the nutritional information on it. The energy content is what you want to look at since protein needs don't change a whole lot but it is increased energy they need in cold weather. For horses at -40 you could be feeding 10+lbs more of hay.

So, if you are not free choice feeding a rule of thumb to try and remember is: they normally eat about 2.5% of their body weight a day, so a 1000 lb horse eats 25 lbs, but in cold weather add 2% more hay for every degree below -15 celcius. This is for healthy adult horses. That will vary for young, senior, sick or underweight horses. Most idle adult horses will do just fine with hay, but again if it is poor quality, you may have to add grain or pellets instead to avoid things like impaction.

Cattle again are similar but we generally feed grain to them to help with their energy needs as most cattle are pregnant or just calving at this time of year. So you must take into account not only the energy needs they need to keep themselves warm, BUT also the needs of the growing calf inside of her. When it is in the mid -20's you will be feeding 7-8 lbs more good quality hay or about 5 lbs of grain.

Water is another very important need in cold weather.

In order to increase their feed intake sufficiently they should have water to drink, not just snow. Try eating crackers with no water and you will see what I mean!

Going into the winter at a healthy weight will help but, as I stated with pets, it will be hard to gain weight in the cold weather. With livestock you may need to feed animals separately if you notice some aren't getting enough due to bossy herdmates or sickness or injury.

Bedding and shelter are also very important in the cold weather. Some older horses or ones with poor hair coat may need to be blanketed to help keep warm. Don't worry if you see snow on the backs of your cows and horses, that HELPS keep them warm! If you ever need advice for feeding your livestock PLEASE see a Professional Agrologist. A list can be found at

Keep warm and happy feeding!

Tara Kennedy is a Professional Agrologist specializing in animal nutrition and management. She graduated from the U of S with a degree in Agriculture majoring Animal Science. She is owner/operator of the specialty pet and feed store, Kennedy's Animal Nutrition Centre. She is on Don Mitchell's Region at noon 900 CKBI  show every second Tuesday morning and the alternate Wednesday at noon.

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