Baby, It's Cold Outside for Livestock

Husker Home Place

Cold and snow make things tough on man and beast, and that's why more and more farmers are opting to move feeding indoors.

Published on: January 7, 2014

When I was a kid, we finished hogs in outdoor lots. We managed the livestock in the winter months very carefully, keeping waterers open, even in frigid conditions, and bedding the hogs as much as possible. Still, they didn’t like to go outside to the self-feeders to eat when the temperatures dipped below zero. Who could blame them? I didn’t enjoy doing chores then either.

I can recall one extremely frigid day in the early 1980s, working all day inside the warm farrowing barn processing baby pigs. Our farrowing barn was actually a converted corn crib. It was primitive, but it was insulated and was heated by an efficient furnace. Along with heat lamps and bedding, we worked to keep our baby pigs warm and our sows comfortable, even under the coldest conditions.

After working much of the morning inside the barn, we stepped outside to walk to the house for noon lunch. The thermometer hanging on a tree near the house read nearly 40 degrees below zero. That wasn’t windchill. It was the actual temperature, and the wind was blowing from the northwest at about 30 m.p.h. The radio weatherman confirmed our thermometer reading. It was the coldest day I’ve experienced at our place. Yet, working inside the barn, you wouldn’t have known how cold it was outside. The pigs didn’t know either.

Environmental and animal rights activists like to point to confined, indoor feeding operations as a symbol of all the things wrong with our food production system these days. And, producers who manage open lot feeding and cows and calves in pasture and on cornstalks do a great job and are as concerned as anyone about the welfare of their stock. To be inside or outside is a not a question of good and bad. Both methods have drawbacks and both have their positive impacts.

Yet, having been on a lot of farms, interviewing a lot of producers over these past few years, I have witnessed firsthand how good animal husbandry is on modern farms and ranches, including those that feed livestock indoors. With technology, utilizing the expertise of industry professionals, and having a strong animal science knowledge base, horse sense and genuine concern for the health of their livestock, modern producers overall are better able to care for their animals now than we were when I was growing up. There are simply more tools in their toolbox, including feeding facilities and barns, that make this possible.

I wonder how many of those folks who complain loudest about modern livestock production and farming practices would brave the weather this week to care for livestock under extreme conditions, putting their own well-being behind that of the animals. Most farmers and ranchers caring for stock do this every day, in the cold of winter and the heat of summer, without even thinking about it. I wish someone in the general national and urban media markets would acknowledge this fact. Unfortunately, on this cold, snowy day, most consumers won't think about it either as they enjoy their pork chop, steak or burger.

Here is this week’s discussion question. What is the coldest actual air temperature that you can remember at your place? Please feel free to leave your comments and observations here. And, dress warm and be careful out there.

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