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Tips to reducing chances of hypothermia, death in livestock due to cold

With winter in full swing and spring around the corner, animal health and the dangers cold weather brings is on ranchers' minds.

"Although animals are naturally built for the outdoors, cold is cold," said Dr. Beaux Johnson, veterinarian at West River Veterinary Clinic in Hettinger.

Charlie Stoltenow, North Dakota State University Extension Service veterinarian, said it's not so much the cold that can harm the animals as it is a combination of cold and wind or the animal being cold and wet.

"The three cold weather defenses large animals have are their fat and fur, a massive blood pumping system and their heat-producing digestive system," said Doug Landblom, animal scientist for the NDSU Research Center in Dickinson.

An animal's fat and two layers of fur (short and long) act as insulation, Landblom added.

"Cold weather care for large animals begins with food, water and shelter, Landblom said. "As temperatures decrease, animal nutrition needs increase. Animals can withstand a lot, as long as they have adequate food and water."

Animals will eat snow, but the danger with that is it decreases body temperature, he added.

"It is important to check the water sources daily to make sure they aren't frozen," Johnson said. "And if they are, you need to break them up because the animals can't do it themselves."

If an animal treads onto ice in search of water, one will follow the other and they may fall through.

"Another concern is stray voltage from electric waterers or tank heaters -- animals will shy away from that too," Johnson said.

Landblom said although it is remarkable how animals can withstand the elements it is important they have good wind protection.

Johnson said shelter for large animals include things like trees, buck brush, draws, slotted board fences and barns.

"Sheep on the other hand should be kept close to the yard or even the barn," Johnson said. "They can get wet and freeze. You also have to worry about overcrowding and clean and proper bedding with sheep."

Landblom said pigs may also require special attention.

"They are usually kept in a barn although they do well outside if they have a lot of straw bedding," Landblom said.

Johnson and Landblom agree problems like frostbite, hypothermia, and respiratory problems such as pneumonia occur mainly in calves but can also occur in adult animals with preexisting conditions.

"Frostbite injuries occur in the ears, tail, teats, scrotum/testicles and hooves," said Charlie Stoltenow, NDSU Extension Service veterinarian. "Frostbite on the ears and tail and feet can result in the loss of those extremities, if found in teats it may cause mastitis and frostbite in the scrotum/testicles can cause temporary or permanent sterility."

Landblom said the best way to prevent frostbite is to keep the animal warm, or provide straw bedding to prevent the animal from direct contact with the ground.

"There is also a company that makes cuffs to place around some of those extremities," Landblom said.

Johnson said respiratory problems can be prevented through vaccinations.

Mold and dust in horse feed can also cause coughing or mild respiratory problems, Johnson said.

He added cold-weather injuries also include broken bones, foot injuries, lacerations and bruising from slips and falls on ice.

"Foot injuries include sore feet, abscesses, foot rot and bruising," Johnson said. "They are caused by walking on hard ground and can be common in the summer months, too."

Johnson said to prevent these types of injuries scrape lots free of rocks, ice and frozen manure.