Extreme cold and heat stress animals

By Ernie Over

Michah Most, UW Extension’s Johnson County Agriculture and Natural Resources Educator, spoke on the importance of keeping the body temperatures of livestock out of stressful levels during periods of extreme heat or cold.  (Ernie Over Photo)

One topic that drew interest at this year’s Fremont County Farm and Ranch Days was how to deal with extreme temperatures in livestock herds. Michah Most, the University of Wyoming Extension Service’s Johnson County Agriculture and Natural Resources Educator, said it was important to create equilibrium of body temperatures in cows and ewes. That would be 101.5 degrees (it’s 98.6 degrees in humans).

When the outside temperature is between 32° and 77° (and with a wide range of variability) animals do not need extra energy to maintain their equilibrium. But whether extremes are cold or hot, any animal experiencing this stress for longer than 48 hours would be severely impacted.

What to do?

In winter and extreme cold conditions, if the animal is shivering, bunching up with other cattle or just standing alone, or if the animal is wet and it’s windy, they lose the insulating capacity of their hair and/or wool. Windbreaks help preserve the animal’s body heat. And, as the wind chill increases, the nutritional demands increase. When it’s colder, they need more feed just to stay in normal parameters.

“If you see snow on their backs, that’s a good thing as you know the animal is insulated,” he said.

As for the other extreme, heat, if an animal is panting, that’s serious and it indicates heat stress. Shade is important when it is hot, and so is water for the animals – lots of water.