Chillaikallan, the harshest part of winter in Kashmir Valley, commencing from 21st of December and ending on 1st February is approaching, carrying along with it a stressful period for livestock that usually suffer lack of adequate heating arrangement in the traditionally built sheds by farmers, balanced feeding with better heat increment and warm watering.
To bear this harsh climate, an animal must be healthy with good body condition score of at least 6-7 on 1-9 scale (1-emaciated and 9-obese), properly fed, dewormed and vaccinated against preventable diseases to meet the challenges posed by the extreme weather conditions of the Chillaikallan.
The preparations to combat such stressful harsh climatic conditions should be made well before the onset of this stressful period; a farmer should therefore make adequate preparations in advance preferably in the early autumn. Storage of various feed and fodder items like hay, silage, complete feed blocks (if possible), urea molasses blocks, and root crop (carrots, turnips etc) must be done for a sure scientific livestock management plan.
From the last two years it has been observed that some farmers exclusively rely on the silage mostly imported from the neighbouring states for winter feeding, ignoring hay and root crops, that is an unhealthy practice causing dismal performances in animals.
Hay (dried grasses) is important for body temperature maintenance for having better heat increment (heat generation within the body) so is required the root crops and concentrates for balanced feeding.
Silage must not be fed more than 35% of the total ration under all the circumstance. Bedding material essentially required for comfort and safety of animal during their intensive rearing must be kept available. Fallen fodder tree leaves (willow, elm, mulberry etc); straws and saw dust must be collected and stored safely for their use during the harsh winter.
By virtue of physiological mechanisms, an animal itself tries to adapt to protect itself 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 and doing this animal loses its body condition, requiring extra care with respect feeding and management to save this body condition score loss.
As the temperature falls below the lowest environmental critical temperature of 20oF, interventions are required for thermogenesis with higher nutritional requirements in terms of protein, energy, vitamins and minerals along with water.
Owing to higher heat producing potential of roughages more than 60% of the total forage requirements need to be offered to help animals cope up with the falling temperatures. Cold stress causes higher energy and protein requirement that could be partially met by increasing the ratio of molasses and oil cakes in composite livestock feed.
However, at farmer’s level, gur or jaggery along with locally available oil cakes (MOC), could be offered to animals. 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 sensitised and trained for silage making, fortification of fodder, complete feed block and urea mineral molasses block preparation.
District Krishi Vigyan Kendras (KVKs) under the technical supervision of the Division of Animal Nutrition and Mountain Livestock Research Institute, Manasbal of SKUAST-K are the most suitable available centers for the purpose.
Due to increased dry matter intake, the water requirement though increased, the intake, however usually dips during harsh winter resulting in the ill health especially in young ones. Animals need to be encouraged to take more water. Luke warm water needs to be offered to the animals at least three times a day for a period of 30 minutes each time. Liberal water intake helps in prevention of occurrence of urolithiasis in young ones and mobilization of calcium in adults.
Proper housing of the animals plays a very significant role in their well-being. To keep protected from harsh cold, the ill informed farmers close all the windows air tight with polythene and sometimes place bhukharis and electric heaters inside such air tight rooms for whole nights causing more harm than any good.
Burns and even deaths of the animals because of this ill practice are usually reported. With no provision for adequate ventilation, accumulation of ammonia and smoke results in production of respiratory ailments and other diseases in the in-housed animals.
Instead, gunny bags are advised to be used as curtains for open windows of animal sheds to prevent the animals from cold storm that also ensure intake of fresh air and exit of obnoxious gasses from the animal sheds. Puckka flooring, easily washable during warm season, becomes source of worry during winter.
Covering the floor with soft bedding material (saw dust, tree leaves, bhusa etc) upto 4-6 inches 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 regularly cleaned and replaced failing which chances of foot and teat and udder affections are expected. Cleanliness of the animal as usual remains of paramount significance and must not be ignored. Animals should be wiped dry and brushed once or twice a day.
Animals should be allowed to move out and excisrse at least for one hour in paddocks if not possible outside due to snow or rain as the total confinement of the animal amounts to its cruelty besides causing poor health condition. 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 slight environmental modifications through proper shelter management, improving body reserves, improved nutritional management and proper health cover utilizing the advisories of experts much loss to production, reproduction and health of animals could be well managed during the harshest part of the winter, the Chillaikallan.
Prof. (Dr.) Jalal Ud Din Parrah is Head, Teaching Veterinary Clinical Complex, FVSc & AH, SKUAST-K
Dr Parvaiz Ahmed Reshi is Scientist (Animal Nutrition), Mountain Livestock Research Institute, SKUAST-K
Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are the personal opinions of the author.
The facts, analysis, assumptions and perspective appearing in the article do not reflect the views of GK.