Friday, January 31st, 2014
Farmers work to keep their animals warm
By Nancy Allen
Auglaize County farmer Lou Brown bottle feeds two calves at his farm on Thursday. . .
It's so cold outside, even cattle are wearing coats.
Twenty-two calves born in the last three weeks at Brownhaven Dairy in Auglaize County have been wrapped in special, coat-like blankets to keep them warm.
Local livestock farmers have had to be more vigilant about the health of their animals after consecutive days of sub-zero temperatures and sometimes fierce wind. Though temperatures have warmed recently, lows of 8 and 10 degrees are forecast for Monday and Tuesday.
"We try to keep them housed inside," Brown said of his milking cows. "The only time they go out is when they walk from one building to the milk parlor, just a short distance."
The young calves are kept in a separate barn with extra heat and straw bedding to keep them warm.
Brown has electric heaters in each of the eight watering tanks to keep the liquid from freezing. He operates extra heaters in the milk house to keep water lines open and equipment operating smoothly.
"The windchill is the big thing," he said. "Keeping everything bedded in lots of straw to keep them warm is important."
He also has generators at the ready in case of an electrical outage. Luckily he has had none.
Celina-area dairy farmer Garrett Hellwarth said he has been dipping his cows' udders in corn starch after milking to keep them dry and protect them from frostbite. He's also been feeding his cattle more hay, corn and fat because they need more calories in the winter.
Hellwarth said he's lost a lot of feed to scavenging birds trying to find food themselves.
Steve Boyles, OSU Extension beef specialist, said sheltering animals from wind and keeping them dry are the best things farmers can do to protect them from the cold.
"They don't necessarily have to be in a barn, but they need some sort of windbreak like hay bales," Boyles said of the animals.
Boyles said if an animal's hair gets wet, it mats and it is unable to insulate with a warm layer of air that is normally trapped in the hair.
"Calves cannot handle quite as cold weather as the cow, so they definitely need to be kept out of the wind," he said.
Large poultry and hog operations generally house their animals in climate-controlled buildings. Cows and beef cattle spend most of their time in unheated barns in the winter.
Dr. Tim Barman, veterinarian for Cooper Farms, which has contract poultry and hog growers, said animals need free access to water. Heating the water also encourages animals to take in more, he added.
"If it gets too cold, they drink less," Barman said.
When chicks hatch, they only have fine down feathers and need extra heat to stay warm. Once they develop feathers they can handle quite a bit of cold, Barman said, adding that dry bedding and shelter are very important.
Piglets also have very little protection when they are born and need extra heat, he said.
Celina-area farmer Garrett Dorsten raises hogs in four climate-controlled barns that each house 960 animals. When he first gets the pigs, they are smaller and require more warmth. As they grow, they generate more body heat and he lowers the temperature in the buildings.
"The main thing is to make sure the barns are airtight so wind can't get in," Dorsten said. "I bought 4 by 8 sheets of Pink Panther insulation and put it on the front of the barns that face the west. The water lines are also on the west end of the barn and it helps keep them from freezing."
He also keeps the lights on inside the barns at night to encourage the swine to drink more.
Barman said farm animals are still better equipped to deal with the cold than their human caretakers.
"It's important that all farmers are vigilant because their bodies are getting abused as well," he said. "They are out there working a lot more because they are dealing with frozen water lines and troughs and checking on their animals a lot more than they would when the weather is beautiful."