Winter Management of Livestock

Winter management, a very crucial factor in animal’s reproductive as well as productive life, is justifiably and rightly discussed, equally in both print as well as electronic media. Livestock management, in real essence begins, rather should begin unfailingly well before the actual fall. However, its results whether good or bad, depending upon its adoption level, would be apparently evident very late after the termination of harsh winter.

 Harsh winter season, especially chillai kallan deserves tenacious welcome by the animal and its owner with full preparedness. Animal should be healthy with good body condition score of at least 6-7 on 1-9 scale (1-emaciated and 9-obese), dewormed, deloused and vaccinated against preventable diseases to meet the challenges posed by extreme weather conditions. Late summer to late autumn is a period, which a farmer should fully avail off, in preparing and storing various nutritional items like silage, hay, complete feed blocks, urea mineral molasses blocks, and in sowing of seeds of winter green fodders like turnip, kale, carrot etc. Bedding material, essentially required for comfort and safety of animal during their total confinement, is abundantly available during this period. Tree leaves, grain husk and even saw dust should be collected and reserved in store for their use during harsh winter.

With the arrival of the winter, animal itself tries to defend against the extreme cold by thickening its hair coat, using insulating sub cutaneous fat layer and its body reserves and increasing metabolic rate, respiration and heart rate and blood flow. Once the temperature dips below the lowest environmental critical temperature of 20oF (for a healthy and well-fed animal), interventional measures are warranted for higher thermogenesis, higher protein requirement and trace mineral supplementation. Ruminants with the help of micro floral digestion process produce a large quantity of heat in their rumen. Nights being colder and longer, more than 60% of the total forage requirement should be offered to the animals during the night hours, as the needed muscular activity as well digestion process would generate sufficient quantity of heat to keep the animal warm. Owing to cold stress, resultant higher energy and protein requirement could be met by increasing the ratio of molasses and oil cakes in composite livestock feed. However, at house hold level, gur or jaggery plus oil cakes, easily available in the market could be provide to individual animal. During severe cold feed intake usually increases by 20 percent, provide extra ration @ 1 percent for every 1o F temperature below lowest critical temperature. To have defect free (musculo skeletal and vision defects), healthy spring calf crop, pregnant animals need to be provided with green forage during winter season in the form of turnips, kales carrots etc., and their feeding supplemented with mineral mixture.

Urea mineral molasses blocks, if provided additionally to the animals, especially to pregnant ones would meet their increased demands of energy, protein and trace minerals. For proper winter nutritional management, farmers need to be sensitized and given hand on training on silage making, fortification of fodders, complete feed block and urea mineral molasses block preparation.

Division of animal nutrition and Mountain Livestock Research Institute, Manasbal of SKUAST-K are best available centers for the purpose for all the farmers of the valley. Water intake usually dips during harsh winter resulting in flare of various diseases especially in young ones. Animals need to be encouraged to take more water.

Luke warm water with the addition of common salt needs to be offered to the animals at least three times a day for a period of 30 minutes each time. Liberal salty water intake would help in prevention of occurrence of urolithiasis in young ones and mobilization of calcium in adults.

Proper sheltering of the animals plays a very significant role in their well-being. Farmers, more enthusiastially, instead of comforting their animal harm them out of their ignorance. To keep their animals warm all the windows are closed air tight with polythene and bhukharis and electric heaters kept on for whole night. Burns and even deaths of the animals because of this bad practice stand reported.

With no provision of ventilation, accumulation of ammonia and smoke results in production of respiratory ailments and other diseases in the animals. Instead, gunny bags should be used as curtains for open windows of cow sheds to prevent their animals from cold storm but at the same time give exit to the ammonia and other gases produced in the shed. Puckka flooring, easily washable during warm season, becomes source of worry during winter.

Padding it with bedding material up to 4-6” would help the animal in conserving the heat from radiating it out and preventing it from acquiring various musculoskeletal affections like capped knee and other foot affections through continuous irritation from otherwise naked wet puckka flooring. Bedding should be replaced either on daily basis or on alternate day basis failing which chances of foot and teat and udder affections remain there. Cleanliness of the animal as usual remains of paramount significance.

Animals should be wiped dry and brushed twice a day. A clean and dry animal endures as low as 5 degree LCT. Total confinement of the animal amounts to its cruelty. Animals should be brought out of their confining sheds during mid-day for watering, feeding and exercise purposes, which additionally would provide opportunity of free ventilation of sheltering shed and preventing it from getting dirtier.

With little bit environmental modification through proper shelter management, improving body reserves, improved nutritional management and proper health care we would be able to cope up with cold stress the animals face during harsh winter.

Have expectations of healthy spring calf crop, good milk production, appropriate heifer replacement crop, nice reproductive life without encountering excessive open cows and repeat breeding syndrome, postpartum reproduction affections besides other medico-surgical condition, only, if you have executed very appropriately winter management for your livestock on scientific basis. A saying in livestock production, “an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure” is worth applicable especially in our agro-climatic conditions.

Author is Chief Scientist and Head Veterinary Clinical Complex, F.V.Sc& A.H. Shuhama SKUAST-K