How to Protect Farm Animals from Freezing Temperatures

[dropcap]E[/dropcap]ven though most farm animals can keep themselves warm in cold weather, it is still important to take extra care of them in extreme temperatures. Animals that are wet and left outside in very cold weather can get frostbite, causing them to lose ears, tails, they will most likely get sick and so on.

Luckily, their survival needs are the same as hours: food, water, and shelter. However, depending, you should also consider thieves that could try and take them away from you.

But before we get into that, let’s take a look at some of the differences between caring for your animals in normal temperatures versus extreme ones.

How Much Food Do You Need?

The answer to this question depends on the type of farm animal, of course. Here’s a quick table showing how much food the most common types of farm animals typically need:

Cattle Around 2.5-3% of body weight in dry matter
Sheep Around 1.5-2.2% of body weight in dry matter
Pigs Around 4-5% of body weight in dry matter
Horses Around 2.5-3% of body weight in dry matter
Goats Around 5% of body weight in dry matter
Chickens About 0.25 pounds of feed per day per chicken

Keep in mind that this is dry matter, and it assumes that the feed has 0% water content (which is not the case). Dry matter feed calculations need to be converted into what’s known as an “as-fed” calculation. This simply means adjusting the animal’s intake of food based on how much water it contains.

As a general rule, most animals will need to be fed a little more than their calculated dry matter intake. Most people use 90% for how much dry matter is in feed (like stored hay), meaning that 10% is water. This is a pretty safe number to rely on for calculating feed.

You should also remember that some animals may eat more or less, and the condition of the animal greatly affects how much they eat. Gestating and lactating animals normally require more food in order to continue producing. Young animals require enough food to sustain steady growth.

In freezing temperature, same thing: animals need to eat more to maintain their body temperature. In some cases their intake could double.

If you fail to meet an animal’s nutritional needs (either with low quality food or not enough), the it’s growth will slow down, it may produce less milk, or it’ll get sick die.

In deciding how much or what to feed your animals, you will also need to consider the quality of your pastures. You also need to be sure that your hay does not have any mold and is stored in a cool, dry place, otherwise, they could get sick if they eat it.

What’s the Best Way to Water Your Animals?

Much like food intake, water intake also needs to be increased for your animals to remain healthy in extreme temperatures. This is because the animal’s metabolic rate is increased as it tries to maintain its body temperature.

The water you give them needs to be as clean as possible. Animals will not drink water by eating snow or licking ice, and too much salt in water can make them sick.

Freezing water will be a problem in extreme cold. Smaller water containers will freeze faster, an important thing to keep in mind for chicken waterers. You may want to invest in tank heaters to keep your water from freezing, though in a disaster situation, these may be more problematic due to gas and electricity requirements.

If at all possible, give your animals water that has been slightly warmed, because cold water lowers their overall body temperature, which means they have to use even more energy to stay warm. Thus they’d have to eat more.

Lack of water can spell disaster for your livestock – if your animals have been deprived of a good source of water for too long, they may drink too much at once, which can cause its own problems. Otherwise, your animals may become constipated, or develop other health issues.

What Sort of Shelter Should You Provide?

While your animals will still be spending some time outside in cold weather, it is inevitable that they will spend an increased amount of time inside. For this reason, you need to make sure that your farm animals have a safe, warm indoor environment when the weather gets bad.

The best thing is a sturdy barn; however, sheds or simple lean-tos are better than nothing. At the very least, your farm animals will need something to protect them from bitter wind, pouring rain and snow. Your barn should be well-ventilated, but tight enough to keep in the warmth generated by the animals.

Dan’s tip: put your chicken coop inside your greenhouse. This will not only further protect your chicks from extreme temperatures but it’ll also keep your veggies warm.

However increased time inside means that the bedding in your barn will need to be changed more often. This is why you need to keep it clean and dry at all times. If you don’t, fumes from the ammonia present in the waste can cause your animals to become sick.

Chicken coops are slightly different than livestock barns in that they should be built off of the ground to adequately keep out snakes, improve air circulation, and more. However, many of the principles for maintaining your chicken coop in the winter (or any other time) are the same as they are for livestock barns.

Your chicken coop does not need to be too tightly insulated, as this can increase the moisture in the air of the coop (which can lead to frostbite in the winter). However, it should be well insulated to stay warm and not too drafty in the winter. You probably should avoid keeping a heated coop because it’s a fire hazard. Nevertheless, it can be a temporary option in extreme temps.

Much like livestock barns, chicken coops need to be regularly cleaned (especially in winter) to prevent too much ammonia from getting into the air. Your birds will likely be spending more time inside in extreme cold weather. You also need to remember to gather your chickens’ eggs more often to prevent them from freezing.

Also, make sure that they aren’t locked in the coop for too long, as chickens can become bored and start fights with each-other (a larger coop can help prevent this). Many people alleviate this boredom with treats to entertain their chickens, like a head of cabbage for the hens to peck at. It is also a good idea to leave the door open most of the time so they have the freedom to go outside if they want (unless the snow is too deep for them to walk in).

The biggest thing to watch out for, for any of your farm animals, is keeping them as dry as possible during extreme weather. Wet animals can very early catch frostbite. If you notice any animals in your pasture shivering, it’s a good idea to bring them inside.

Noticing this will require that you keep watch over your animals more closely, but the value of the animal far outweighs the value of the time spent monitoring it.

You can put dry blankets on them, but this will only help if both the animal and the blanket are fairly dry. Trapping moisture against their skin will also increase the risk of frostbite, so you need to change the blanket regularly.

How Much Time Should My Animals Be Outside?

Even if the weather is terrible, you need to make sure that your animals get enough exercise. Being cooped up for too long can make animals more likely to get sick, produce less, and hurt each other (especially chickens). Horses can develop bad habits if they’re kept inside too long.

Even if it’s only for a few hours each day, you should strive to let your animals get some fresh air, even if only for a few minutes.


Animals, just like people, are susceptible to dying in extreme temperatures. However, with proper knowledge and maintenance, your livestock can be well-prepared to survive a tough winter, even if it’s post-collapse.

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