Animals’ energy needs increase as subfreezing temps linger

It appears the brutal infusion of arctic air will envelope much of Illinois and the Midwest at least through next week.

And while frigid conditions create a myriad of challenges and risks for people, farmers and pet owners should remain proactive in terms of animal care strategies.

“This is an unusually cold stretch of weather we haven’t had the last few years,” Nic Anderson, business developer for the Illinois Livestock Development Group, told the RFD Radio Network. “It’s a good time to go through the checklist of cold weather precautions and really understand animals’ needs.”

For instance, a cow’s energy needs increase roughly 30% when the temperature dips below freezing for an extended period and those needs jump as much as 50% when the mercury plunges to zero, Anderson noted.

Low temperatures consistently dropped below zero in much of the state last week with wind chills that were projected to reach 15 to 25 below zero this past weekend.

“All you have to do is step outside 15 to 20 minutes to get a little wind chill on you,” Anderson said. “That’s sure to affect energy consumption for animals, whether it be farm animals or pets. The same requirements exist.”

Anderson recommends adjusting feed rations and ensuring access to clean water. Use of some form of housing and establishment of windbreaks are also critical for outdoor animals.

“Hydration is a big part of heat transfer, keeping the body warm,” he said. “Good, clean water access is important.”

Most hogs in Illinois live in heated barns, but farmers should double-check fans and ventilation systems regularly to avoid any temperature fluctuations inside that could affect those animals.

The weather outlook as of Thursday showed the streak of subfreezing temperatures could linger into the weekend (Feb. 20-21) in central Illinois, which would mark 16 consecutive days below 32 degrees in some areas.

The most recent streak of subfreezing temperatures from Peoria to Springfield was 14 days that ended Jan. 6, 2018, according to the National Weather Service (NWS).

Local records for the longest stretch of subfreezing temperatures total 35 days in Peoria and 28 days in Springfield in 1977, according to NWS.

In Champaign, the record subfreezing streak is 36 days, from Dec. 29, 1976 to Feb. 2, 1977, according to the Illinois State Climatologist’s office, with a record run of 43 days in Chicago, from Dec. 28, 1976 to Feb. 8, 1977, WGN reported.

Moving south, the lowest temperature recorded in St. Louis since 1970 was minus 18 degrees on Jan. 20, 1985. More recently, the temperature dipped as low as minus 6 on Jan. 30, 2019 and Jan. 1, 2018 in the Gateway City.