Keeping Warm in Extreme Cold Weather

— Written By


Livestock, and the farmers that take of them, come from a hardy stock and are use to facing the elements. However, farmers should be aware and prepared to protect their livestock (and themselves!) during extreme cold, ice, and/or snow. Hypothermia and dehydration are the two most common life-threatening conditions for both livestock and farmers in cold weather. Cold temperatures coupled with wet conditions and wind-chill can greatly increase the effects of cold-stress on livestock and people.

The following are recommendations for keeping livestock warm and safe during extreme cold:

  • Livestock should be provided with wind-break (natural or man made) and roof shelter, and monitored for signs of discomfort (extensive shivering, weakness, lethargy, etc.)
  • It is very important that livestock be provided extra hay/forage/feed as up to double the energy/calories for normal body heat maintenance may are required in extreme cold.
  • It is critical that animals have access to drinking water. Usual water sources may freeze solid in low temperatures and dehydration becomes a life-threatening factor. Many of our animals, especially the young, may not know how or be unable to break several inches of ice to reach water. In general, animals tend to drink less in extreme cold, risking dehydration. Research with horses shows horses drink more water if it is warmed during winter weather.
  • Adding a warm sloppy bran mash, sloppy moistened beet pulp or soaking pelleted feed in warm water is a good way to add water to your horses’ diet and provide some “comfort food” in the cold weather.
  • Special attention should be paid to very young and old animals. They may be less able to tolerate temperature extremes and have weaker immune systems. Make sure that young animals are capable of nursing and check teats for frostbite or skin irritations that may limit suckling.

The following are links to factsheets from places that have much more experience with cold weather than we do!


Photo taken from USDA Website

Extreme cold weather is not only dangerous for the livestock, but also the farmers who work it. The following are suggestions for farmers to stay safe and warm while working in the elements:

  • Layer up! Layers give you the freedom to add or remove a layer if you get too hot or too cold. Your first layer should be a “wicking” layer. Even in extreme cold, farm work can work up a sweat. A wet, sweaty layer against your skin can dramatically reduce your body temperature. Similarly, in wet conditions, like snow, sleet or rain, make sure to wear a water-proof outer layer.
  • Almost 50 percent of body heat is lost through the head. A wool knit cap or a liner under a hard hat can reduce excessive heat loss
  • Cotton is not recommended. It tends to get damp or wet quickly, and loses its insulating properties. Wool and synthetic fibers, on the other hand, do retain heat when wet.
  • Footwear should be insulated and waterproof. Bring an extra pair of sock with you if your planning to work outside for long periods of time. Working in wet socks is not only unpleasant, but can greatly increase your chances of developing frostbite.
  • Drink fluids often especially when doing strenuous work. For warming purposes, hot non-alcoholic beverages or soup are suggested. Caffeinated drinks such as coffee should be limited because it increases urine production and contributes to dehydration. Caffeine also increases the blood flow at the skin surface which can increase the loss of body heat.

For more tips on how to stay warm while working in extreme cold, check out the following link: