Winter Weather and Livestock - Reprint Jan 2016


Many people are concerned about the welfare of farm animals during winter and periods of extreme cold. Please be assured the Countryside Initiative farm animals are fine. These animals are born and raised outside like deer and other wildlife. The draft horses grow a thick winter coat each year and their breed is known for their resilience in cold climates. Sheep, pigs, poultry and goats also handle the cold weather fine with some extra care. To keep warm they need extra calories, so farmers up their animals' feed rations in winter. They need and get ample supplies of fresh water. They also require shelter from adverse weather. A row of hedges or shrubs can be adequate shelter, as are a 3-sided tent, hoop house or open access to a structure. This link from an OSU farm animal expert talks about the steps farmers take to increase feed rations to match seasons: Caloric intake is the primary factor for animals to stay warm, not barns or blankets, which actually can be harmful. A closed up barn can often lead to respiratory issues. And horses that have winter coats and that are not clipped should not wear a blanket, it can cause overheating, premature shed, and fungal infections. Here's a story about common mistakes in winter care: There is nothing inhumane about raising livestock outside in an Ohio winter so long as they have water, food and shelter.

It is important to distinguish animals in their perspective groups, we have pets, livestock/farm animals and wildlife. Pets that are not bred to be outdoors should be brought inside in dangerous weather conditions. Most livestock breeds are meant to be outside, just as are wildlife. We realize that some people disagree with that. We also realize that some people disagree with raising livestock completely. We respect those ideas too. Food and animal ideologies can be very diverse, just like religious values, but we still need to have respect and coexist.

Certainly we understand people unfamiliar with farming would be concerned, but this is how and where our food comes from. There is a reality to our food system that many would prefer not to acknowledge even though they themselves eat food. That said, can an animal die in winter? Yes. Sick and elderly animals can and do die even when good management is in place. I say this because it should be no surprise, nor a symptom of negligence if someone sees a dead farm animal. Animals do die - in the wild and in captivity.

We strongly feel that all of our farmers are experienced and adhere to and exceed the Ohio Livestock Care Standards. They care deeply about the animals that they raise, and do everything they can to ensure that they're kept safe in extreme weather conditions. If you have additional questions about these standards, I encourage you to contact Countryside or the Ohio Department of Agriculture at 614-728-6220.