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Farmers challenged by freezing weather facing livestock

4:51 PM, Jan 6, 2010   |    comments
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  • This black angus calf is one of 2010's newest additions.
  • Even horses that weather the winter in barns at night need special care to make it through.

Knoxville (WBIR) -- As temperatures stay below freezing, farmers in East Tennessee are keeping a close eye on the health of their livestock.

The 25 newly born calves at Bull Farms in Rutledge draw particular concern.

"Two sets were twins," said Nathan Bull. "It's the worst time to calve calves. We had one, its ears froze the other morning."

Though cute, none of the calves can get through the winter simply on their good looks - and especially not this winter, which has brought with it record strings of cold days and nights.

Helping the calves and the other cattle at Bull Farms is a constant challenge.

Special water troughs keep water from freezing, but ice still covers ponds, which poses a threat of cattle falling in and drowning.

Agriculture experts advise farmers to break the ice on nearby water sources. 

Most importantly, though, farmers help the cattle help themselves.

"Livestock are outside animals anyway, and they have tricks they do themselves to make sure they overcome these extreme conditions," said Anthony Carver, UT Extension Agent for Grainger County. "[Eating} is their natural way of creating heat, so they'll eat more hay."

Bull says he'll put down about 3 to 4 extra bales of hay every day when temperatures drop.

The heat-with-eats technique extends to horses at Southwind Stables in South Knoxville, where more hay means more meals, but also more bedding.

Frozen water buckets still pose a problem.

"We have to bust the ice 4 or 5 times a day to keep the horses drinking," said Southwind Stables Manager Tracy Highsmith.

Highsmith insulates barn windows and other cracks, which allow for air flow in the summer time, with thick plastic coverings.

"So there's not a full breeze blowing in on the horses," Highsmith said.

The barn insulation techniques raise temperatures inside by bout 15 degrees.

But experts say farmers and livestock owners should also keep an eye on themselves.

Since they spend so much time outdoors, they're at high risk for frostbite and hypothermia.

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