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State: Protect your chickens, livestock this winter

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Delaware is home to over 50 million chickens on 700 registered farms, and the state’s Department of Agriculture has some tips for farmers about protecting these and other animals this winter.

State Veterinarian Heather Hirst recalls a 2003 blizzard in which the snow was so heavy it collapsed the roofs of several sheds and poultry houses throughout the First State, crushing poultry to death.

“That was pretty catastrophic,” Hirst said. “That’s what we would call a disaster or a storm, a severe winter storm - something where we would have a difficult time.”

Hirst says Delaware doesn’t typically get frequent heavy snowfalls, but the colder temps themselves should remind farmers to check in on their poultry and livestock. Most farm animals can adjust overtime to the frigid temperatures, but owners should still inspect poultry houses and other livestock facilities to make sure all animals are hydrated and well fed. Animals need to have a constant source of fresh running water to maintain their body temperature, Hirst said.

“During cold weather, animals that are kept outside will also have an increased demand for calories, and they’ll also have an increased demand for water because they need to be able to thermoregulate and keep their bodies warm internally,” Hirst said.

In addition to the millions of poultry, the state has more than 16,000 dairy and beef cattle. Hirst said owners should inspect all animals' structures to ensure they are properly maintained. They should also make sure their animals are properly fed and hydrated.

“Sometimes animals will need supplemental food, perhaps grain, where they may not be getting a lot of concentrated feed,” Hirst said. “They may need to have a more high caloric type of feed source to get them through cold weather.”

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