By Dr. Ishfaq Jamal
Cometh winters we have a severely challenging time for our livestock. The harsh weather of Kashmir and more importantly Ladakh region poses a tremendous challenge to livestock farmers. Freezing temperatures, cold winds, frost and scarcity of quality fodders in winters is what hampers the productivity of our livestock most. We have no control over weather, but we can reduce the harmful effects of severe cold on our livestock. Maintaining proper health is a serious challenge and that too with the meager resources at the disposal of farmers. Broadly there are three aspects that need to be taken care of for proper scientific management of livestock in winters: shelter management, nutritional management and healthcare management.
Livestock is mostly kept indoors during winters. Therefore, the design, structure and building material of animal housing becomes important to protect animals from adverse cold. In our part of the world, we have to rely on conventional barns or sheds rather than the loose housing system that is prevalent in tropical and sub tropical regions of India. Efficient housing is important for the micro environment, disease and parasitic control as well as economy of labour. For most of the farm animals, a mean daily temperature in the range of 10-20 degree Celsius is the comfort zone and we should be able to maintain this temperature inside the sheds. Sheep can tolerate a wide range of temperature but should be protected from rain, snow, frost and cold winds.
Modern animal sheds have mostly concrete flooring so a bedding of about 5-6 inches should be in place in order to prevent the contact of animals with cold floors, which may lead to more heat loss from the body. The bedding material usually comprises of left over fodder, straws, and shavings and saw dust. Bedding material should be regularly changed in order to avoid wetting and dampening. A wet bedding material may become a nidus for infectious agents. Conventional barns in valley mostly have wooden floors; care should be taken so that they don’t become damp. At least, clean the sheds once daily for proper waste disposal and minimum accumulation of harmful and pungent smelling gases. For cleansing of animals, instead of bathing a dry and clean cloth or brush should be used for clearing dirt and dust from the body. Maintaining proper ventilation in animal sheds is particularly important. Air movements are important to remove obnoxious and toxic gases like ammonia and to supply the fresh air.
Heavy snowfall, frost and cold breeze will make conditions tougher for livestock, especially young stock, weak and sick animals. So, proper arrangements for artificial heating should be made where ever required. Animals should be tethered within sheds and weak animals covered with sack cloth. Smoke and dampness should be avoided as they may increase the chances of pneumonia in animals.
Feeding comprises one of the major and an important livestock operation. For dairy animals, about 60% of input costs are incurred on feeding. While feeding livestock during winters a special care has to be taken about the quality and quantity of feed and fodder provided. Ample water should be available always, as a limited water supply will reduce the feed intake and make difficult for the cows to meet their energy requirements. Frozen water is detrimental to the health of animals. Clean, fresh and lukewarm water and if not lukewarm, at least, water with temperature above subzero should be available all the time.
During severe cold periods, there is a need of feeding more good quality hay so that more heat of production is produced to maintain the body temperature; otherwise the animals will burn the body mass to produce metabolic heat and in turn would lose bodyweight. Winter feeding of animals requires use of additional salts, vitamins and mineral mixture in adequate quantities. After following a scientific feeding schedule, the condition of the animals needs to be regularly monitored and observed and if the animal still loses its body condition, a veterinarian must be consulted. Our state , in general and the valley, in particular, is deficient in good quality fodder; farmers mostly rely on poor quality paddy straw as a forage. Improvement in quality and enrichment of nutritive value of straw by urea, ammonia and NaoH treatment will give better results. Also silage feeding, jaggery and oilcakes becomes important for providing required nutrients and maintaining body temperatures .
Harsh winters will severely affect health, production and reproduction status of animals if not taken care properly. The animal may become off fed on a poor quality feed, become feverish and pneumonic. Severe environmental stress and exposure to pathogens may aggravate the condition of animal. Parasitic control is very important; so animals need to be dewormed , otherwise a heavy load of parasites will rob animal of its nutrition . Animals should be vaccinated against diseases like FMD, PPR, HS, enterotoxaemia and black quarter. A proper vaccination and deworming schedule is imperative for the livestock.
Departments of animal and sheep husbandry should issue winter advisories for farmers from time to time, organize veterinary health camps in order to acquaint our farmers with proper scientific management techniques during winters. Focus should be on demonstrating enrichment of the straw, silage making and other value addition of feed and fodder. An emergency helpline should be made available to the farmers for disseminating information related to livestock and dealing with any untoward calamity due to heavy snowfall. We can easily overcome the losses in productivity of livestock by applying A package of scientific management practices during winters.
The Author is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Livestock Production Management at IIVER, Rohtak, Haryana. He can be reached at: Drishfaqjamal@gmail.com