Eat snow for water? Is it possible? We, probably, possibly Maybe? could have? all seen the old Western films where the herds of range cattle roamed pretty much wild and free. If they needed a drink they would go to the local creek stream or even spring for it. Then winter came, snow is three foot deep wind and snow is blowing parallel to the ground and the cattle are piled up in bunches to keep from freezing.
Where is the water now? Where do they get a drink? I actually remember thinking just that. I also (think) I remember coming to the conclusion snow is water if they are thirsty they just get a mouthful and it melts into water and they have their drink. RIGHT? No doubt it was several years later than I learned about hypothermia. I still don’t know much about it. Just enough to know that if already freezing to death taking a mouthful, or a few, of snow for a drink may not help the situation.
So where do the free range farm livestock and even wildlife get a drink when everything is frozen. I am going to give you my opinions first before research even begins. Just to see how wrong, or right, I and maybe we, have been all our lives. What prompted this now? It is cold, about 12 degree, when I got out of bed. A couple of inches of snow on the ground and all the water tanks for our animals frozen solid. My options: Let nature follow it’s course or haul hot water out of the house. Now I believe nature does provide and the livestock will eat the snow if necessity presents itself but if I can relieve that necessity without a lot of expense or inconvenience to myself why not. But we have 3 cows, 1 bull calf, 2 pigs, 8 chickens and a dog. And just under 9 acres. Not 900 or several thousand as is the case with real farmers or ranchers.
In my opinion, nature got along without man’s help long before we had the ability to help or change the natural environments so yes given the time and need farm animals will adapt. Will it happen immediately? Maybe not but they will at some point, long before death, try to eat that snow and discover that it becomes water and eventually try it often enough to figure out that this works for water too..
Is it good for them? I don’t really know. Common sense tells me that if you have a sick or diseased or even just a weak animal the adverse effects of extreme weather will effect that farm animal much more adversely than it will a healthy animal. That one may well need special attention under any circumstances.
Can it cause them to freeze? Here I would refer you back to the paragraph above. I don’t believe a healthy animal (farm or wild) would be adversely effected unless that animal is far out of it’s natural element and has no way to compensate for those changes.
Those are my basic beliefs about this issue. I do occasionally carry out water for my animals but more because it makes me feel better about me than any real belief that they would not survive and do fine without it. But yes if is cold enough to freeze the water source and there is no other source of water it is my responsibility to insure they have enough to drink.
So what does happen in nature.
According to: Jim Keyes – USU Extension Area Animal Scientist; e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org;
When winter hits and temperatures drop below freezing, it becomes harder to keep a fresh water supply for cattle grazing on range. It can be difficult to access areas to cut ice and open reservoirs or to haul tanks of water.
Many wonder if cows can eat snow in the winter to supply all their water needs. The answer is yes. There are many situations where cattle can survive on snow without having any other water supply. Many ranches throughout the West and Midwest with cattle on large pastures and few or no water resources depend entirely on snow for winter grazing.
Just turning cattle loose on the snow sounds like a very simple management technique, but it requires that ranchers pay very close attention to the animal’s body condition and general health.
Several studies have shown there is no reason to expect cattle performance to deteriorate when animals use snow for water. Researchers found cows using snow for water did not differ in live weight amount of body fat compared to cows receiving water.
In late fall and early winter, the problem is to provide water to animals that are out on range or swath grazing, is it okay for cows to consume snow as their only water source?
After a short adjustment period cows will consume adequate amounts of snow to meet water requirements. Eating snow it is a learned behavior rather than instinct, therefore an adjustment period is needed for the cows to learn how to eat snow. Generally, it takes 3 days for cows to adapt to eating snow.
These are brief excerpts from 2 different government agencies that have reportedly based the findings on extensive studies. Not on old John Wayne or Jimmy Stewart films as I have. Needless to say both of these have a lot more information available and are interesting as well. You may want to take the time to read them in their entirety just out of general interest if for no other reason. It does make me feel better that their conclusions support my own. Maybe I am not as slow as it some time seems.
Anyway my opinion is still, if it snows don’t beat yourself to death trying to haul water out to them. If you want to insure they have a constant source of water there are many sources of tank heaters available. Tractor Supply, Amazon, your local Co-op or feed and grain store can all provide them for you either direct or online.
Cold out? Yes! Snow on the ground? Yeah, not much but some. Put off by it? Not yet. But it doesn’t have to be single digits for me t enjoy it. How about you? How cold do you want it to be on your farm? No matter the size.
Just to keep the records clear. I still enjoy a good western. It is usually easy to tell the good guys from the bad ones and the ladies are always beautiful in more than just looks. The plot is easy to follow and good always comes out on top. What’s not to like? But should anyone ever shoot me in my right arm I seriously doubt you will find me running after him trying to beat him to death with my left.
Reminds me of a war story I know. It involves me rolling around in the dirt yelling corpsman with the best of them till I got up enough nerve to look. Maybe another time.
Do take the time to read up on it some. If we are going to have the animals we should have some idea as to what their needs are. Let me know what you find. Especially if it differs with what I have said.