How to keep livestock healthy this winter

Farmgate Feeds’ Lisa Mancell advises how to support livestock over the winter season.

As Autumn draws to a close, that feeling of dread can loom as we start to think about preparing our animals for the long winter ahead. Planning is key at this time of year and adjustments needn’t be overwhelming if they are broken down into smaller tasks. Here are some handy tips for caring for your livestock as the weather turns colder.

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Winter sheep - ForFarmers UK


Although sheep may not need to be housed under shelter, unless they are approaching lambing, there are still ways we should care for them in the cold. Their wool goes a long way to keeping sheep warm, but it’s difficult to keep heat trapped in to create an insulating layer if not much new wool is being produced. Sheep rely on their rumens to be active to produce enough body heat to keep them warm, so nutrition plays a key role.

If you’re planning for early lambing, winter housing is advised for your ewes. They do not require a higher temperature than outside, but shelter can be helpful and will make life easier for the stock person during the lambing period. Ensure ventilation is adequate and keep housing free from high humidity, condensation and draughts to avoid the risk of respiratory problems.

It’s also important that ewes are receiving the right balance of nutrition in the eight weeks leading up to lambing as this is when 75% of the foetal growth occurs. This puts increasing pressure on the ewe’s rumen, reducing its capacity and suppressing a ewe’s feed intake by as much as 30%. Increasing the quantity of high-quality protein in a ewe’s diet is advisable to encourage this growth as well as support the ewe by feeding little and often with high feeding levels in late pregnancy and early lactation.


Housing cattle at this time of year makes it easier for the general care of the animals and protects the grass so they have plenty of quality grazing come the spring. The shelter should be large enough to keep cattle clean, comfortable, and away from draughts.

A cow’s feed intake can increase by as much as 20% in the colder months so it’s essential to prepare your winter-feeding requirements ahead of time, so you don’t risk running out when your cattle need it most. Ensure that the feeding area has plenty of space for the cattle to feed and if possible, regularly move around hay rings and feeding stations to limit the build-up of mud.

Analysing your winter forage for its quality is also a good idea in readiness for the colder months to ensure you are delivering the required levels of nutrients; your feed advisor will be able to offer guidance as the seasons change.


To support your pigs as we reach the start of winter, make sure they have well-ventilated, draught-free housing, a well-insulated roof and enough room to run (and play).

At the rearing and finishing stages pigs need to be supported by the optimum balance of nutrients for healthy and efficient growth to maximise lean meat deposition. Subtle changes to their winter housing will help to ensure they are feeding well – for example, make sure all areas can be lit during feeding as this is a crucial time to observe whether they are in good health. If you are feeding your pigs twice a day, and both are in the dark it could affect their health and sleeping patterns.

In summary

Cold weather can impact the nutritional requirements of your animals, so it’s crucial to plan for the winter months to consider any changes to housing and feed. Choosing a good quality feed which is palatable and has the correct nutritional balance for your animals will pay off when it matters the most, ensuring that your animal's health and performance are supported all year round.

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