DeWitt County, IL
DeWitt County Illinois
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DeWitt County E.S.D.A.

Animal Safety in Winter
Providing Adequate Shelter, Feed and Water

For animals normally kept outside during the winter, safety can be a concern during extended periods of severe cold, snow or wet conditions.

Wind coupled with severe or prolonged cold weather causes additional stress on livestock, and pets. Increasing their needs for shelter, food and water.

Severe cold alone usually will not affect the performance of large animals on full feed. Wind, however, can be a serious stress factor. A strong wind has about the same effect on animals as exposure to a sudden drop in temperature. In general, a 20 mph wind is about equivalent to a 30 degree F. drop in temperature. Under extreme conditions, simple wind and snow protection devices will not be 100 percent effective.


Move stock, especially the young, into sheltered areas during severe periods of cold. Adequate shelter is important because animals' extremities are subject to freezing during sub-zero weather. Extremities that become wet or are normally wet are particularly subject to frostbite and freezing. The loss of ears or tails could be of little economic significance, but damage to male reproductive organs could impair the animals' fertility or ability to breed. Frozen and chapped teats will impact milk production.

  • Shallow open-front sheds provide excellent shelters for livestock. Such shelters should have slots along the eaves on the back side. The openings provide ventilation and prevent snow from swirling into the front of the shed. Use a I-inch slot per 10 feet of building width. Continuous ridge openings of 2 inches also are recommended for each.
  • Solid-sided feed wagons work well for temporary wind protection. Attach plywood or locate bales of straw or feed at the bottom of the wagon to block wind from moving under the wagon.
  • Windbreaks, properly oriented and laid out, or timber-covered lowlands make good protection for range cattle. Unlike shed-type shelters, windbreaks eliminate concerns about overcrowding or proper ventilation.
  • Never close shelters tightly, since stock could suffocate from lack of oxygen.
  • Additional bedding is helpful to keep animals insulated from the ground and to keep them dry during cold periods.


During severe or prolonged cold weather, animals need extra feed to provide body heat and to maintain production weight gains. Provide them with additional, higher fiber feeds such as hay or hay mixed with oat straw. A good formula during cold weather is to increase feed one percent for every degree drop in temperature below 32 degrees F. For example, when the temperature drops from 32 degrees F. to 0 degrees, provide 32 percent more feed (break this into three or four feedings a day). Usually, animals instinctively eat more feed if a storm is approaching.

Remember that mechanized feeders may be inoperable during power failures. Unless you have a source of emergency power, you may need extra labor to feed, water and care for animals by hand.


Dehydration is often a greater hazard during winter storms than cold or suffocation. Cattle cannot lick enough snow to satisfy their water requirements. They also will need more water if they are eating a higher-fiber diet. Use beaters m water tanks to provide livestock with enough water. Or, only pump out as much water as needed twice a day, to avoid problems with freezing water. If pipes freeze or power is out, you may need to haul water to animals.


Watch your livestock carefully during winter storms and periods of severe cold. Keep them moving. If you see them shivering, not moving or acting abnormally, call your veterinarian. In particular, watch younger cattle for signs of trouble. And as before the same detail should be provided to your domesticated pets.