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Protect your outdoor pets from the cold

By Sharon Omahen
University of Georgia

As you cover plants and water pipes in preparation for freezing temperatures, remember to protect outdoor animals against the cold, too.

"No matter what, you've got to provide your outdoor animals with shelter from the wind," said Wes Smith, a University of Georgia Cooperative Extension agent in Upson County.

Personally, Smith doesn't favor bringing small animals indoors when the temperatures drop outside.

"Growing up on a farm in Huntsville, Ala., we made sure the outdoor dogs were warm inside their dog hut," he said. "Now, I won't let my wife bring the cat inside, so she puts a hot water bottle under its blanket, and we provide an area to sleep away from the wind."

More harm than good

Smith says bringing your outdoor animals inside your home can actually do more harm than good.

"It's a lot like when we get sick when the temperature is 70 one day and 30 the next," he said. "The drastic change in temperature can make them sick, too -- especially when they go from 30 degrees outside to 70 or even 80 degrees inside your house."

Overall, Smith says to use common sense when protecting your outdoor animals from freezing temperatures.

"If it drops to zero outside, you are going to have to provide a way for them to stay warm," he said.

For farmers, he said, "If you have cattle, it's best that your pasture has a wooded area where they can go to seek shelter."

Surprisingly, he said, when snow falls on cattle's backs, it can help keep them warm. "When a snow pack forms on their backs, it creates a form of insulation," he said.

A shelter would be ideal for cattle and other large animals, but it's not feasible for most cattlemen.

"When you've gotten 100-plus mama cows, you realistically don't have a barn large enough to hold them all," he said. "I've even locked some of my show cows out of the shelter during snow because it helps them grow a thicker coat. And the animals know how to compensate for the cold."

Feed cattle more, not less

Cattle, he said, eat more feed during cold weather to create internal energy. For this reason, he tells farmers to feed cattle 50 percent more than normal. "Even if they don't eat it," he tells them, "make sure it's accessible."

Cattle and other livestock have to have water, too. "You wouldn't want to go all day without drinking, and you shouldn't make them do it," he said.

Of course, they can't drink ice.

"I have a 50-gallon water trough, and I've always been able to bust up the ice with an axe in the morning," Smith said. "Most of the time it may be frozen or have a layer of ice in the morning, but it has melted by the afternoon."

You can break through the ice layer, too, by pouring hot water over the top.

"A smaller trough will freeze quicker than a larger trough," he said. "If you don't like the idea of using an axe, there are water heaters available from area feed-and-seed stores."

(Sharon Omahen is a news editor with the University of Georgia College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences.)

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