Preparing Hampshire smallholdings for winter
They say that for people, there’s no such thing as bad weather, only bad clothing. However, making sure the farm animals around The New Forest have the right environment this winter will make the difference between a productive and comfortable or an un-necessarily grim few months.
To help ensure you’re ready, the farm vets at Pilgrims Veterinary Practicehave produced a few simple tips to help you stave off the worst effects of deteriorating weather. To help smallholders manage their to-do’s we’ve also produced a handy ‘Preparing for Cold Weather tick-list’ for you to download and consider.
You don’t need us to tell you that Autumn can be dampish both in Hampshire and across the country. Almost ironically therefore a winter priority is to secure the right water supply for animals. All animals will drink more water in winter, and many will do better if it’s slightly warmed. If you can’t accommodate this, then be aware that even the thinnest topping of ice may prevent animals from drinking properly. Guard against too little water by making plans for when it freezes and checking regularly to ensure all your animals can access fresh water.
As a rule, young animals need more food and older animals will benefit from getting the best quality sustenance you can muster. There is nothing like protracted cold weather to expose an inadequate diet. As with most things in winter, preparation is the key, so make sure you have enough of what you’ll need on hand before you need it.
Young animals like calves need more as the temperature drops, so whether you’re using whole milk or milk replacer, why not speak to us about the current recommendations and we can calculate specific feed quantities based on your animals age and the prevailing conditions.
Most animals will tolerate cold and wet conditions better in a three sided shed than a tight un-ventilated barn. It can be a tricky balance between providing adequate ventilation and guarding against drafts. The rules of thumb, whatever the shelter you have, are to ensure its maintained before the weather hits and to make sensible changes to accommodate likely weather scenarios. So, making sure the roof is properly nailed down, the lights work, and the doors will open in the snow, will make everyone’s life easier when the weather hits.
In bigger sheds, consider creating smaller environments, especially for young animals. Bale or wooden shelters and things like Calf Jackets are a way of helping young animals to conserve energy for growing rather than survival.
Apart from making sure you’ve got enough bedding available to keep all your animals warm, there are a few extra tips we can share.
First amongst these is keeping that bedding dry. If your animals get wet from the bedding, they will be cold & uncomfortable. Consider;
- An underlayer of sawdust or sand to absorb moisture
- More frequent cleaning
- Mixing wood shavings with straw to help keep animals dryer
When a calf has nested down in straw you should not be able to see its legs and pigs definitely need enough bedding to have a warm place to lie.
Finally, most animals tolerate dry cold air much better than warm damp air, so do keep an eye on ventilation.
Almost finally…Don’t forget yourself
We’re vets not doctors, but one factor that we know helps farmers and smallholders help their animals stay comfortable is if the human that is looking after them is comfortable. Plenty of warm practical clothing and preparing the yard, gates and doors to help access in poor conditions makes all the difference.
In summary we think that the two most important factors in livestock health are the effects, both internally and externally, of air and water: Both should be fresh and pure, and too much or too little of either will cause problems. Apply the same to yourself and you should be good to go.