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Cold And Hungry Winter Threatens Animals

Cold And Hungry Winter Threatens Animals

Farm animals could be facing a long, cold and hungry winter unless their owners have made adequate provision for the months ahead.

"The dry summer and autumn weather has slowed pasture growth this year. As a result, as the cold weather approaches, paddocks aren't as lush as usual and hay is scarce and costly," says the Royal New Zealand SPCA's Veterinary Adviser, Marjorie Orr.

"However much the cost of hay varies, livestock feeding requirements do not change. A useful rule of thumb for grazing animals is that they need 2% of their weight each day in good quality meadow hay.

"This rule applies whether we're talking about horses, ponies, sheep, cattle or goats. Farmers need to make sure right now that they have enough feed to get their stock through winter. They also need to remember that extra supplies may be required if the hay is not of good quality or if some of it is wasted by trampling," she says.

Dr Orr adds that young, growing animals and aged livestock both require additional feed, such as concentrates, as well as hay. The same goes for pregnant or lactating animals, for working horses or for animals in a poor bodily condition.

"Farm animals also need water during the winter months. If they don't get it, their digestive systems won't function properly and they might suffer severe digestive problems. Water actually has heightened importance if animals are being fed dry food such as hay or concentrates and farmers do need to check their animals' water supply daily. In colder parts of the country, troughs can freeze over and owners may need to break the ice or supply their animals with water in buckets.

"Cold wet weather can be highly stressful for farm stock. The chill factor can be extreme when coats get saturated and it's windy. This is particularly so for very old animals, for the young or for newly shorn sheep or goats. In terms of both animal welfare and basic economics, it doesn't make sense to leave stock exposed to everything that winter can throw at them.

"Adequate shelter in the form of windbreaks can go a long way to preventing cold stress. If there isn't enough natural shelter or shed space, farmers can rig-up temporary shelter by tying wind-netting to the fence or placing hay bales on the windward side. If this hasn't already been done, the time to do it is now!

"Goats, moreover, need extra care as they feel the cold very badly. Unlike sheep, they don't have waterproof coats. Nor do they have any fat under their skin to keep them warm. So, it's important that they have overhead as well as wind-proof shelter in bad weather," says Dr Orr.

Marjorie Orr adds that horses' covers need waterproofing before the full onset of winter.

"Horses, especially thin-skinned horses of thoroughbred type, should be fitted with comfortable waterproof covers during the colder months.

"The covers should be checked daily to make sure they don't chafe, particularly over the withers, under the front buckle and between the hind-legs," she says.

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