Critter Care in Cold Weather
As we prepare for cold weather headed our way, northern friends may chuckle. Some have had wind chills of -70* and ice. But for the south, it’s not as common – 20s and 30s are normal winter, but a high of 27* and low of 9, as is predicted early next week, is bone chilling for here.
Keeping water going is an issue. Then there’s critters. As it gets closer, fellow animal owners are messaging for cold weather tips. Short of bringing animals in (easier with rabbits than cows!), preparation is key.
Remember that animals can handle cold weather. Even southern animals, where it’s getting icy at night, can handle it *if* we help them. Here we do several things to help the outside stock make it through cold spells.
Windbreaks or shelter is critical. They can handle cold, but not so much drafts and wet. Birds have feathers they can fluff for insulation and rabbits of course have fur or wool. Cattle and horses normally have a good winter coat this time of year. But a windbreak or, better, shelter gives them a chance to stay warm.
A bigger issue is water. Extreme cold means frozen bottles, bowls and water lines. Buckets need to have ice broken in them – with small stock this is more critical as they aren’t able to clear it themselves. If possible offer some warmed water – icy water needs to be warmed by the body. We don’t like ice water on a cold day, and offering warm water (not hot) gives them a chance to maintain water consumption. Many animals if they just have icy water can reduce the amount they drink, which can lead to dehydration which then can lead to digestive upset from rabbits to horses to cattle. Circulating water that doesn’t freeze, tank heaters, insulated pipes and clearing ice are just a few ways to keep water thawed for animals to drink. Added tip: in horse tanks put a small bit of woven wire – if birds or squirrels fall in they have something to grab to get out.
Plenty of hay helps the rabbits get through cold snaps. If we have babies in the nest box, we’ll use a heat lamp secured over the cage pointed into the end of the nest box. This can help even with a regular light bulb. Be sure to secure wires out of the reach of nibble noses.
It’s not unusual to have an animal in the house. If an animal is compromised or ill they will need additional care to get through cold. Very young and old animals need extra attention too.
Many working dogs prefer to be out with their charges, but benefit from being in the barn too. These basics – shelter, feed, water – will go a long ways towards helping animals deal with weather extremes. The rabbits can handle cold better than hot weather, but to us it’s uncomfortable.
Pets, too, need shelter and feed and water. One of our cats does not like to be inside no matter what. The teepee is, in part, her shelter, where she can get out of the weather without being harassed. Diva is ready to come in at 40* so the upcoming cold has her wearing her coat in the house. (we bundle up too!) while the others are happy to go out, do their business and saunter back in. Even “outside dogs” *can* get by with an area to get into that is sheltered and plenty of bedding. Straw in a dry, draft free doghouse can do well. Some use barrels – which work as they can get in, and it’s a smaller area to conserve heat. Of course, many call such things cruelty, but it depends too if the dog is adapted to cold. For Diva, yes it would be cruel. Heavy coated breeds – huskies, Pyrs for example – are content to have access to outside and a shelter. For our dogs, inside with a warmer spot is good, and usually Poo and Elsa (cats) come in also in cold weather.
Taking care of animals in cold weather isn’t fun. Frozen water, ice and additional challenges are done because it’s important but it’s not something often pictured. Sunny summer days with grass in the fields are easier to look at. In some areas, wildlife depends on farmers and ranchers too.
We have feed on tap – and are hoping for the cold to pass through quickly. Stay warm, stay safe and use caution with gas heaters, open flames, etc. 78 days until spring!