UK College of Agriculture Warns of Livestock Cold Stress

UK College of Agriculture Warns of Livestock Cold Stress

The average horse, with a lower activity level, should eat between 1.5 and 2% of his body weight in feed per day to maintain weight. But that feed requirement increases in the winter, as the horse uses more calories to keep warm.

Photo: Megan Arszman

Agricultural meteorologists from the University of Kentucky (UK) College of Agriculture warned that arctic cold has settled into the Bluegrass State.

"This is much colder air than we have seen the past couple of winters," said Tom Priddy, UK agricultural meteorologist. "An arctic air mass, coupled with north winds, will create wind chills in the single digits."

Priddy said the combination of cold air and high winds could put most parts of Kentucky into periods of dangerous and emergency categories for livestock cold stress.

Livestock producers should ensure animals have adequate shelter, water, dry bedding, and feed to endure this cold spell, and pet owners should bring pets indoors. UK livestock specialists said animals have a higher energy requirement in the colder months, so producers should have high-quality grains and forages on hand to meet their needs.

According to scientists in the College of Agriculture, as the external temperature declines, the maintenance energy value for an animal increases to maintain core body temperature. Animals maintain core body temperature by increasing their metabolism, resulting in greater heat production, as well as other heat conservation strategies such as reducing blood flow to the extremities, shivering, and increased intake.

Both external and internal insulation influence an animal's ability to handle very cold temperatures. External insulation is basically the depth and thickness of the hair coat. The hair coat acts as insulation similar to home attic insulation that traps air, enhancing the insulating value. If the hair is wet and full of mud, air is excluded, reducing the insulating value and increasing heat loss from the skin to the environment. The hair coat's density and whether it is wet or dry impacts the wind chill temperatures at which cold stress is considered mild, moderate, or severe. As little as 0.1 inch of rain can immediately impact cold stress severity by matting the hair down and reducing its insulating ability. Acclimation time, coat thickness, fat cover, and other factors will also influence the degree of cold stress that animals experience.

The average horse, with a lower activity level, should eat between 1.5 and 2% of his body weight in feed per day to maintain weight. UK equine specialist Bob Coleman, PhD, said that feed requirement increases in the winter, as the horse uses more calories to keep warm. He recommended providing extra hay and making sure horses have shelter to get out of windy, damp weather. He said it's also very important for horses to have access to clean, unfrozen water.

Coleman said horse owners can separate animals according to body condition score and supplement them accordingly or offer them higher quality forage if available.

Source: edited College of Agriculture news release. For more information, contact Tom Priddy or Matt Dixon, 859/257-3000, ext. 245, or Bob Coleman, 859/257-9451.

Aimee Nielson is an agricultural communications specialist within UK's College of Agriculture.


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