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23 July 1999
Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry Animal Welfare staff are fielding more calls about
the effects cold weather and a lack of feed are having on stock, particularly in the high
Complaints are increasing particularly after snow storms. Of the complaints
investigated, the problems are generally the result of owner inexperience or neglect.
Often the problem is on hobby farms where farmers have not planned ahead to ensure
sufficient feed and shelter for their sheep, cattle, horses or goats, particularly when it
is windy, wet, or snowing.
"They may not have anticipated that in very cold weather when it rains or snows,
stock need more feed, and if it is windy they also need windbreaks that are effective at
stock level, " says
MAF Enforcement officer David Barbour. Mr Barbour says he and his team of animal
welfare advisers are there to offer advice about livestock to any farmer.
He says stock can usually cope with one of the three factors that cause cold stress,
which are cold temperatures, wind and rain, or snow. If two or more occur together, stock
need extra feed and shelter. "Feed requirements increase significantly in cold
weather. A good feed of grass, quality clover or lucerne hay before a storm hits greatly
enhances survival chances. A bellyful of food has the additional advantage of providing
heat from within as it is digested," he said.
Sheep should not be shorn in winter or spring unless extra feed and good shelter are
provided. Sheep should also not be shorn if cold weather is forecast. "Use winter
combs to leave enough wool for insulation. Some farmers choose to split their shearing so
that all shorn stock can be adequately sheltered if a storm does hit."
Mr Barbour says providing effective shelter for animals in the form of wind-netting or
large bales on the windward side of the paddock is important. Stock should also be moved
to paddocks with effective natural shelter, such as gullies, ditches and scrub.
Richard Bishop, a Cromwell veterinarian, says that most farmers take steps to protect
their stock from cold stress. When storms hit, tracks are cleared and extra feed is
"Farmers sometimes get food to stock by snow raking which can be hard work. It
means physically clearing tracks in snow to ensure stock have access to feed. In heavy
snow helicopters may be used to take food to stock in outlying areas. Stock may be trapped
in drifts, sometimes even in the lee of shelter belts, and they can be located by
searching for breathing holes in the snow."
Dr Bishop says the high country which has some of the coldest and fierce winter storms,
has livestock that have evolved to cope with the conditions.
"Merino sheep have evolved to cope with the cold, dry conditions," he says,
"they know their area and search out shelter and food, and high country cattle
generally do too. Farmers still do, however, move livestock to sheltered areas in winter
or in anticipation of bad weather."
In snow, the stock most at risk are lambing ewes and their lambs, recently shorn sheep
(for three weeks after shearing) and shorn feral goats. To help reduce the risk of lambing
during cold weather on the high country, lambing is usually timed to be later, than on low
land. When sheep are shorn, enough wool is left to provide effective insulation.
For media inquries contact:
David Barbour, MAF Enforcement Unit officer, Animal Welfare,
phone 021 337 128, fax: 03 313 0045.