As winter sets in, the harsh conditions can significantly impact the health and well-being of poultry and livestock. The drop in temperature, the cold winds, icy rain, and snowfall can make life uncomfortable and even dangerous for them. Although these animals are hardy, the harsh winter conditions can be challenging for livestock and their owners.

The good news is that you can help keep your animals comfortable and thriving during the cold season. Whether it's a flock of chickens, a herd of cattle, or some horses, providing proper shelter, nutritious food, and careful attention to their needs can help them stay warm, healthy, and comfortable throughout the winter.

Bedding and Shelter

A well-maintained shelter is your livestock's frontline defence against harsh elements. Having a sturdy, well-maintained structure provides livestock with optimum protection from: 

  • Wind and drafts - Cold temperatures can quickly sap an animal's body heat. The shelter should be built to minimise drafts and keep the air inside warm while promoting adequate ventilation. It helps the animals stay warm and conserve energy. 

  • Rain, snow, and sleet - A properly constructed shelter has a watertight roof and walls that protect livestock from rain, snow, and sleet. These products of precipitation can quickly turn their hair coat and feathers wet and heavy, increasing their risk for hypothermia. 

  • Extreme cold - A well-insulated shelter creates a warmer environment that helps livestock regulate their body temperature and prevent shivering, which can burn many calories. 


Proper ventilation ensures sufficient airflow inside the building, promoting the circulation of fresh air and removing moisture and condensation that tend to form on the walls and ceilings due to poor airflow.


A comfortable layer of bedding can make the winter more bearable for livestock. Here are important factors to consider:

Both straw and hay are ideal bedding materials for livestock. They provide excellent insulation and moisture absorption and make good resting areas.

Long-strand straw is preferred over shorter straws because it offers better insulation and easier cleaning. While hay can be an ideal bedding material, animals may eat it instead of their feed. Thus, you should avoid using large quantities of hay for bedding. 

What to avoid:  Sawdust or wood shavings are not recommended for large animals. These materials may contain certain chemicals that can irritate the respiratory systems of animals. The texture of these materials can also be uncomfortable. 

Keeping the bedding clean and dry is very important. When the bedding is damp, its insulation properties are lost. The moisture creates a favourable breeding ground for bacteria. Also, there can be a build-up of ammonia, which is an important predisposing factor for respiratory problems. Soiled bedding must be removed regularly and replaced with fresh material to keep the animal's immediate environment clean, dry, and warm. 

The depth of the bedding generally depends on the type of animal and the climate. Ideally, a layer of 6-12 inches should be aimed during the winter to trap warmth and ensure adequate cushioning. 

Nutrition During Winter

During the winter, poultry and livestock require more energy for body temperature maintenance. This equates to an increase in caloric needs. How do you ensure that your livestock have the fuel they need?

First, provide high-quality hay and forages so your livestock can have an adequate intake of essential nutrients and fibre which are crucial for generating internal heat. These feed sources provide slow-burning energy that helps keep the animals warm from the inside. Supplements like grain or concentrates may also be necessary. 

Know your animals’ nutritional requirements. Factors like age, life stage, activity level, reproductive status, breed, or type of animal are important considerations when it comes to meeting their specific nutritional needs. Your veterinarian is the best source of information for appropriate feed rations. 

Keeping Livestock Well-Hydrated During Winter

Water is an essential nutrient, without which, animals can become dehydrated, even during the winter. Eating snow won’t ensure enough hydration. Dehydration can have serious consequences, so having an easily accessible freshwater source is of optimum importance. 

A major challenge during the winter season is keeping water sources from freezing. Here are some tips to make sure your animals have access to fresh, clean, and unfrozen water throughout the winter:

  • Invest in heated water buckets, tanks, or tank de-icers. While these are reliable solutions, they are an added expense since they need a power source to operate. 

  • For a cost-effective option, somebody should regularly check and break ice in water troughs. This is, however, labour-intensive. The frequency of checking and breaking ice will depend on the severity of the weather. This option is ideal in places with milder winters. 

Cold Stress

As environmental temperatures drop, chickens and livestock can become highly susceptible to cold stress. 

Animals have the so-called “lower critical temperature (LCT)”, a state in which they are unable to maintain their body heat through passive means and must generate extra energy to stay warm. 

Being vigilant for signs of cold stress can nip any potential problem in the bud before it becomes serious. 

Signs of Cold Stress 

  • Changes in behaviour that show animals trying to conserve body heat: shivering, huddling together for warmth, lethargy. Shivering is an animal’s attempt to generate heat through muscular contraction. 
  • Decrease in feed and water consumption; the cold weather can suppress an animal’s thirst and appetite. 

If you have chicks or ducklings, the Pet Control HQ chicken brooder is an energy-efficient unit that mimics the warmth of a mother hen. It’s designed to comfortably accommodate 25 chicks or ducklings while protecting them from potential threats like predators and other pets. 

Regular Health Checks are Important

Livestock will benefit from regular health checks throughout the year, more so during winter when they are subjected to extreme weather conditions.

  • Body Condition Score (BCS)

The Body Condition Score is one of the most important indicators of overall animal health. A healthy BCS indicates adequate energy stores to combat cold stress. However, a noticeable decrease in body condition scores during the winter can be a red flag indicating that your animals are not receiving enough energy-rich feed to maintain their body weight and body temperature. It could also be a sign of a health issue/s affecting your animal/s. 

  • Health monitoring
  • Be alert for any signs of illness, such as behaviour changes, loss of appetite, diarrhoea, coughing, nasal discharge, or changes in activity level. Early detection is important so appropriate measures can be undertaken to address the issue, including proper veterinary intervention. It can also minimise the risk of illness spreading to other animals. 

    Other Winter Care Tips

  • Windbreaks for outdoor areas

  • Harsh, strong winds can make animals feel much colder. Windbreaks in pastures or exercise areas can reduce wind speed and protect your livestock from wind and drafts. A row of evergreen trees planted strategically, bales of hay, or customised wind fencing can be used for this purpose. 

  • Create opportunities for exercise

  • Even with the harsh winter cold, sheltered animals should have adequate opportunities for physical activity. Regular exercise helps maintain muscle tone, aids digestion, and improves blood circulation, all contribute to better overall health. Encourage your animals to move around by:

    1. Providing adequate space inside shelters or paddocks 
    2. Offering additional forage in strategic locations outside the shelter 
    3. Allowing access to larger grazing areas on days when it’s not as cold. 

  • Prepare for winter storms

  • Storms can happen during winter, creating challenging conditions for you and your livestock. Bad weather can also disrupt normal routines. Here are some tips to be prepared:

    1. Have extra feed and water supplies on hand if resupplying is not possible because of road closures or power outages. This can ensure that your animals won’t go hungry during storm-related disruptions. 

    1. It is important to regularly inspect shelters for damage from strong winds, heavy snow, or debris. Prompt repairs are necessary to maintain adequate protection of your animals from the elements.  

  • Hoof and foot care

  • Healthy hooves are important for the animal’s mobility, balance, and overall well-being. The muddy and wet conditions during winter can increase the animal’s risk of hoof problems like foot rot. 

    Some measures to prevent hoof and foot problems include:

    1. If you have animals with excess hoof growth, have their hooves professionally trimmed by a farrier or veterinarian. Properly trimmed hooves allow for stable movement on uneven or slippery winter terrain. 
    2. Manure and other waste materials should be removed regularly to help control moisture build-up and maintain cleanliness.
    3. Resting and feeding areas should have good drainage so hooves can dry properly because of reduced exposure to moisture. Designate dry areas or dry zones in shelters using straw or hay. 
    4. Hoof inspection should be done regularly to check for injuries, signs of swelling, cracks, or signs of infection. 

    Winter Coat Grooming for Horses

    Horses need to have their coats groomed regularly, more so during winter. A well-groomed hair coat can provide better insulation because it traps air more effectively. Grooming also promotes healthy skin and helps prevent skin problems. Grooming sessions are also opportunities to inspect your horse for any sign of a skin issue, such as wounds, parasites, etc.. 

    When horses get wet from rain or snow, the Pet Control HQ 2800W Horse Blow Dryer can help cut the job of drying dense hair coats in half. The high-velocity hair blower is ideal for drying sweat off a horse’s coat after exercising in cold weather. 

    Note:  The sound of a hair dryer may be startling for some horses. Take time to introduce it gradually coupled with positive reinforcement. 


    Taking proactive measures before winter can help minimise the impact of wet and frigid conditions on livestock, ensuring their health and well-being throughout the cold winter months.

    July 08, 2024 — Meredith Unger