How Do Farmed Animals Fare in the Winter?

Monday December 18th, 2023

Shiver Me Timbers! How Do Farmed Animals Fare in the Winter?

By Jeffrey Richard, Jameson Humane Volunteer

Jameson Humane is known for its rescue and care of a wide range of animals that might otherwise face neglect or even premature euthanasia. (See, reviews posted Among many other species and breeds, Jameson’s dedicated staff and volunteers care for or have cared for numerous farmed animals such as horses, cows, sheep, goats, pigs and chickens.

In the upcoming colder months, we hope that everyone will be on the lookout for any animals (whether they be big or small) that might be in distress from the elements. Members of the public are always Jameson’s best connections and sources of information regarding animal welfare issues. The cold/rainy season brings with it potential hazards to animals that can be every bit as serious as those that arise during the hot/fire season.  Jameson needs you to be its eyes and ears and if you see something, say something!

Jameson is well-acquainted with ways in which animals naturally protect themselves to some degree from the cold.  It is important to take all appropriate precautions to assure the health and comfort of the animals during the colder months. 


          Dawn English, Equine Care Manager at Jameson, has observed the way in which horses have evolved to develop certain natural protections against the cold:

“For horses preparing for winter/colder weather, they grow their winter coat to help keep them warm. Their hair becomes thicker and fuzzier, which not only helps them stay warm but also repels moisture. Some of our horses also like to roll and coat themselves in mud to help stay warm. The coating of dried mud is another layer on their coat to help maintain their body heat.  A lot of times if you brush them clean, they immediately go roll in the mud again.”

English describes how Jameson provides additional protections for its horses during the cold weather:

“To keep our horses warm during the cold winter months, we make sure they are getting plenty of quality hay/feed to maintain their weight. It helps horses retain body fat to feed them a little extra during the colder months. They tend to lose weight burning calories trying to stay warm. For horses that are underweight or might not have a thick enough winter coat due to health or age, we will put a warm comfy horse blanket on them to stay warm and dry. We also provide shelters with bedding for the horses to get out of the wind and rain.”

Cows (and Other Ruminants)

Jared Henry is Jameson’s manager of Animal Healing and Development, Farmed Animal and Equine Specialty.  He’s a key player in Jameson’s care for farmed animals, including cows, sheep and goats that are known as ruminants (aka, “cud-chewers”) – those animals that regurgitate feed previously ingested and then chew and digest it further. Henry describes how ruminants cope with cold weather:

“Ruminants are incredibly cold hardy animals, with the exception of some breeds of goats. Cows and sheep, however, can be quite happy covered in snow in freezing temperatures. Cows, sheep and certain kinds of goats grow in a very thick insulating layer of fur/wool during the winter.  A cow can be perfectly comfortable literally covered in snow. In fact, when temperatures drop below freezing, cows are often better off when covered in snow than they are when directly exposed to the cold temperatures. Snow actually provides an insulating layer as it remains at around 32 degrees (F.) in most conditions. 

A trick of the trade I’ve learned with cows and less wooly sheep is to feel through their winter coats to their skin. Is the animal’s skin dry? Then they’re feeling fine. If they are wet, then we may have a problem.

Another cool thing about ruminants is that their digestion actually creates notable body heat. And their continuous eating, digestion, and re-digestion helps to generate heat that combats the cold.

However, young ruminants are more vulnerable to cold weather. The second most common cause of death in lambs is freezing to death. While blankets on adult ruminants can do more harm than good in the coldest of temperatures (because a blanket tends to flatten their coat and reduce its insulating effect), baby sheep, goats, and cows should be covered with jackets or blankets during even moderately cold weather. (By the way, such apparel makes for some darn cute photo ops!)"

It should be noted that cows need dry areas in which to lie down to assure proper digestion through rumination. Availability of comfortable stalls is critical to optimize the rumination process. But cold, wet weather can often make it difficult for cows to find dry places suitable to lie down. Care should be taken to provide dry, comfortable areas for cows. Bedding materials should be used to provide a barrier between the animal and muddy or frozen earth.


Jameson’s Jared Henry observes how pigs adjust to colder temperatures:

“Pigs’ winter coats are different from those grown by horses or cows. In the hot weather, most domestic pig breeds lose almost all of their hair. But when the cold weather comes, they are totally covered in coarse hair. While the hair does help them some, pigs are not as cold hardy as ruminants. And in areas that receive snow, some pigs will even refuse to step outside their shelter or barn into the snow. 

Pigs seek the comfort and body heat of other pigs in cold weather. They prefer to cuddle with other pigs to fend off the cold rather than putting on a jacket or blanket.  It is virtually impossible to get a jacket on an uncooperative pig!”


          Henry describes how chickens fare in cold weather:

“Chickens are very good at regulating their own temperature. When it’s cold out, chickens can be seen huddling like a football team during a timeout. Although they probably don’t know why they are doing it, huddling with other members of the clutch preserves their body heat.

Chickens also fend off the cold by altering their posture. In warm weather, they stand tall with their neck stretched. In the winter, they keep their head very close to their body, which keeps their feathers more tightly compacted and traps body heat. To help chickens fend off cold weather, we typically give them a secure shelter with four walls to protect them not only from predators but from the chill of winter weather too.”

All of Jameson's animals are preparing for the cold and rainy weather! Whether it is eating some extra calories to pack on a few more pounds, wearing a blanket for some of the senior horses who might need more warmth, or getting some added bedding to snuggle into overnight, they're all receiving the special care and attention needed during these cold and rainy days and nights. Be vigilant during the cold and rainy weather for your furry friends and please contact Jameson with any animal welfare concerns.