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Winter Warmth For Farm Animals


For Release: 25 June 2002


The Royal New Zealand SPCA has called on farmers to make sure their animals are adequately protected against winter cold snaps.

The SPCA's Veterinary Adviser, Marjorie Orr, says that most farmers do a good job of providing animals with the food and shelter needed in cold, wet or windy weather. But, she says, there are still some stock owners who fail to plan ahead, and their animals can suffer unnecessarily when the weather takes a turn for the worse.

"Overall, New Zealand has a milder climate than many Northern Hemisphere countries and, for this reason, we tend not to keep farm animals indoors during winter. But we do have an extremely changeable climate and farmers need to be prepared for severe cold snaps right through till October. This means that both food and shelter for their animals are priority issues," says Dr Orr.

"Farmers should bear in mind that herbivores such as cattle, sheep, goats, horses and donkeys produce heat internally when they're digesting and that this helps them keep warm. So, if there's enough food available throughout the winter, animals should be much better able to survive its rigours in health and comfort.

"With respect to shelter, windbreaks can certainly play a vital role in protecting stock. But, in hill country, some of the worst snowdrifts can accumulate in the sheltered areas behind windbreaks and animals can get trapped there. It's therefore important for farmers in colder parts of the country to know precisely where their animals can shelter in safety and, as the weather gets colder, to plan their rotation around these areas," she says.

Marjorie Orr adds that particular care needs to be taken of vulnerable stock such as thin or old animals and newly shorn sheep or goats. She also says that lambing ewes need access to effective shelter at sheep level so that their lambs can be protected from the worst of the weather.

"Horses and ponies are another group of animals requiring special attention. This is partly because people tend to keep their horses and ponies until they're quite old and older animals are more sensitive to cold. But it's also because many riding horses, particularly those with thoroughbred blood, don't grow a particularly thick winter coat. If they are not covered, they get absolutely miserable in cold, wet and windy weather.

"Horse covers are essential items and need to be waterproof and well-fitting. I'd advise owners to check beneath the cover at least once a week to make sure the horse has not contracted a skin disease and is not suffering from chafing as a result of an ill-fitting cover," she says.

"In general, New Zealand's farming community is growing more aware of the role of adequate winter food and shelter in ensuring both the welfare and productivity of its farm stock. But we still have some way to go before we can be sure that all our farm animals are adequately protected against winter's icy blast," says Dr Orr.

For further information, please contact: Marjorie Orr Veterinary Adviser Royal New Zealand SPCA 03 489 7920

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