Keep small livestock safe during severe cold

Winter is shearing season for small livestock farmers who want to prevent weak spots in wool or mohair fibre in the summer. Farmers are advised to ensure their animals are adequately sheltered from the cold, wind and rain predicted for parts of South Africa in the next few days.

Extreme cold weather conditions are predicted until 12 July, with very low minimum temperatures and windy conditions in parts of the winter and summer rainfall regions.

Heavy rain, strong wind, cold and even snow are expected. Read the full forecast here.

Some time ago, the Livestock Welfare Coordinating Committee compiled tips for farmers preparing for severe conditions and what to do if their livestock are affected by the cold.

Periods of severe cold and wet conditions cannot always be predicted long in advance, as these weather systems can form quickly. Therefore, livestock farmers should closely monitor short-term weather forecasts, especially in winter.

The National Wool Growers Association (NWGA), a member of the Livestock Welfare Coordinating Committee, shared this advice with African Farming.

Precaution and prevention

Risk reduction should be the long-term goal for livestock farmers. The committee encourages farmers to consider the following:

  • Local knowledge of historical events in an area and on a farm is invaluable. Farmers with decades of experience in an area can help themselves and their neighbours. Thorough record-keeping can help identify risk times, even outside the winter months.
  • Most farms have higher-risk areas where it is coldest, including the lowest valley areas and ridges exposed to windy conditions. These areas should be avoided during dangerous times.
  • Monitoring short- and long-term weather forecasts is strongly recommended to take precautions in time.
  • Where possible, there should be shelter where livestock can be moved beforehand. Bushes and rows of tall grass at right angles to prevailing wind directions will slow the wind speed and protect animals. Other options include barns, wooded areas and walls.
  • Ensure the livestock breeds being farmed are adapted to the prevailing cold conditions. An animal’s fibre, colour, skin and body type will influence its resistance to icy conditions.
  • The timing of breeding will determine the dates of calving and/or lambing. Newborn animals are at the greatest risk of hypothermia, so births during high-risk times should be avoided.
  • Body condition will determine an animal’s ability to withstand very cold conditions. Animals should have a body condition score of more than 2, preferably more than 2½, if they have to endure extreme cold. Extra feeding may be necessary.
  • For Angora goats and wool sheep, the timing of shearing is important. Avoid shearing animals during high-risk times; they remain vulnerable to hypothermia for two weeks after shearing. Nevertheless, ewes should not carry excessive wool during lambing as it also poses risks.
  • Remember that extreme cold or the so-called chill factor – which is a combination of very low temperatures, rainfall causing evaporative cooling, and wind – can lead to severe hypothermia and deaths.

Steps when severe cold affects livestock

  • If hypothermic adult animals struggle to stand or walk, they should not be moved – it is preferable to protect them where they are.
  • Temporary improvised windbreaks can be made from anything at hand – straw bales, shade netting, corrugated iron, etc.
  • Provide water and feed where the animals are lying. High-quality roughage (such as alfalfa) is recommended. Be careful of overfeeding grains such as maize as it can lead to acidosis.
  • Consider the possibility of bedding, with straw or grass hay, if animals cannot stand.
  • It may be necessary to change the animals’ position regularly to prevent pressure sores.
  • If the animals are wet, dry the fleece or hair as evaporation can lead to cooling or hypothermia.
  • Hypothermic calves, lambs or kids should be fed before they are warmed.
  • Kids, lambs and calves can be transported by vehicle to shelter, preferably accompanied by their mothers, although this is not always possible.
  • Young livestock that have not yet been weaned can be fed with artificial milk or glucose through a stomach tube. This technique should be demonstrated by a veterinarian.
  • Livestock that have not yet been weaned and that get cold may start to suck on a teat or drink from a bucket.
  • Always consult the local veterinarian for more options and details.
  • More details are also available on the committee’s website (

What about insurance?

Insurance products are available for livestock owners to hedge their risk of major losses due to cold, fire or various other factors.

Andries Wiese, head of agriculture at Hollard Insurance, says it has developed an insurance product in cooperation with the NWGA that offers a relatively inexpensive solution to small livestock owners. “It provides overarching coverage for various types of risks.”

According to Wiese, it is important that farmers note they cannot take out this policy at short notice to get coverage in time for extreme weather events, for example. Depending on the insurer or policy, it can take up to a week before coverage is ready.

“Farmers should act proactively. Weather warnings can be issued before an event, but the period beforehand may be too short to act only then.”

Wiese says with extreme weather events becoming increasingly common, it is advisable for farmers to act proactively and speak to their insurer to ensure they minimise their risks as much as possible.

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