Freezing weather conditions affects farming in several ways and to help give advice to farmers on what to do in such conditions, the Department of Defence today launched its ‘Be Winter Ready’ campaign.

The more significant effects of such weather include the provision of feed and water to livestock, the delivery of feed to farms and the transport of products from farms.

The freezing of water pipes to sheds and outdoor water troughs, the freezing of milking machines and other equipment in milking parlours and the freezing of coolant and diesel in tractors are also situations farmers can find themselves in.

Bearing all of these possible situations in mind, the Department’s Be Winter Ready booklet has some great advice for farmers:

Housed Livestock

Livestock will survive for a period of time without food but animals will show signs of dehydration if left longer than 24 hours without water.

With cattle in sheds, the provision of feed is generally not a problem as forage and meal is usually stored in the farmyard or nearby.

The most vulnerable groups of animals to water shortage are milking cows, animals on high concentrate diets and animals fed hay, straw or other very dry feeds.

Water requirements

Dairy cows must have access to drinking water at all times. A cow producing 30L of milk and being fed a silage- based diet requires 75-90L (16-20 gallons) of water per day.

Finishing animals on high levels of dry feed, such as high concentrate diets have a big demand for water.

These animals should always have free access to water. An animal consuming 10kg dry matter of dry feed will need 60L (13 gallons) of water daily.

Concentrate feeding levels should be reduced and animals put on wet silage fed to appetite, where an adequate water supply cannot be provided.

These animals need to be introduced to meals gradually again once water supply is restored.

Reducing mineral intake may reduce the demand for water, particularly in sheep.

If access of livestock to water has been restricted and then suddenly made available, over-drinking or water toxicity can cause health problems and even fatalities in extreme cases. Allow gradual access to water initially, when animals are extremely thirsty.

Out-Wintered Stock

Cattle can cope with low temperatures provided they have plenty of feed. Even young calves are not seriously affected by low temperatures if they have shelter from chilling wind and driving snow/rain.

Water supply is a huge problem with outdoor stock. Surface ice needs to be broken twice per day.

Sheep are the largest group of out-wintered stock and the advice from the Be Winter Campaign is that:

  • Ewes in early and late pregnancy have higher energy requirements than those in mid-pregnancy.
  • Ewes in early and late pregnancy should get a supply of forage (hay or silage) and about 0.5 kg meal / day where there is a blanket of snow and no grass available.
  • Ewes in mid-pregnancy will get adequate energy from hay or silage, fed to appetite.
  • Sheep need access to water where dry feeds (hay/meals) are fed. Introduce meal gradually to avoid acidosis.
  • Forage should be fed in a round feeder or behind a feed barrier to avoid wastage. Meal should be fed in troughs or on a packed line of snow – this can be made by tractor or quad driving on the snow and forming packed lines. Feed the concentrate, preferably as nuts on the packed lines of snow.

Further details on what to do in the case of frozen water pipes, frozen milking machines and the transport of animals in freezing conditions is available in the Be Winter Ready booklet.