Winter on your Farm


Winter is just around the corner. The air is getting chillier and with that comes a few obstacles when tending to your outdoor livestock. In this post, I’d like to mention a few ways that you can make winter a little easier on you and your animals.

Freezing temperatures are the main problem when winter rolls around. Water freezes and we worry if our animals will be able to handle the drop in temperature. Most animals are fine with the cold winter weather. As long as they have been living outside year-round in a non-climate controlled environment, they will adapt. Animals like goats, horses and sheep, will develop a woolier coat that they will then shed come spring time. Some animals well get woolier than others, like my katahdins who look practically shorn in the summer but grow a thick coat of wool during the fall. Even my little nigerian dwarf goats beef up their coats for the winter. So their natural coverings are completely adequate for most locations. As long as they have a place to get out of the weather, they will be fine without additional heat. It is not advised to add heat to your animal shelter in the dead of winter. If it must be done, maybe because your animals are birthing and you do not want the babies to freeze or some of your animals have become sick and the cold is making it worse, then heat should be added gradually. Adding too much heat to animals that have been acclimated to cold weather, can end up making them sick.

A passive way of keeping your animal shelter warmer is by using the deep-litter method. This is a layering technique where you put a thick layer of something like pine wood shavings under your usual bedding like straw or just use all pine wood shavings. This bedding would only be turned during the winter, not removed. The bedding will slowly compost over the course of the winter, releasing a small amount of heat. This will keep your animal shelter slightly warmer than the outdoor environment and the air. Once temperatures warm up, you do a big spring clean and add all that partially composted litter to the compost pile.

Shelters should be secure enough to keep your animals dry in the winter and out of the weather but do not seal them up so tight that fresh air can’t circulate inside their shelter because this will lead to respiratory illnesses. Some people think it is better to lock all air out but some air exchange is still needed to keep your animals healthy.

Water freezing is the main obstacle in winter for myself. For some people who have electrical connections near their animals, a heated water bucket will suffice to keep the water from freezing but this doesn’t work for everyone. There are a few ways to deal with this if you do not have access to electricity:

Keep two sets of water containers. All the water containers you have for your goats or quail or rabbits, make sure to have double that. In the winter, water generally freezes overnight but it can also freeze throughout the day depending on temperatures. In the morning you will have frozen water containers with your animals outside, inside you can keep an entire set of containers, either filled with warm water or ready to be filled. Switch those out in the morning or also in the afternoon if needed, and you won’t have to worry about whether your animals have access to their water. This method works well for me because the water spigot outside of my house tends to freeze in winter. So water is only available indoors.

Keep water in black rubber containers. Those black rubber containers that you see at tractor supply and other feed stores are great for keeping water in the winter because they tend to warm up if left in the sun. This will keep water from freezing during the day but might not prevent it from freezing overnight. The rubber ones are great because the ice can be removed from them quite easily just by flipping them over or bending them as the water does not stick to the rubber when it turns to ice. They are also easy to fill if you keep a 3 gallon bucket indoors, fill with water and just walk around and refill your outdoor containers in the morning.

Try some ping pong balls. If it’s only cold enough that only the surface of the water is freezing, then a few ping pong balls thrown on top of the water might help. They will help to keep the surface in motion especially after animals have come to drink and they’ve been moved around. Water can’t freeze if it is moving.

Make sure to give your animals a little extra to eat. Keeping our bodies at the right temperature requires a little more energy in cold weather. The same holds true for our animals. I like to supplement my animals with sugary or fattier foods in the winter to help them out. For example, I generally don’t feed my poultry corn during the warmer months unless I am fattening them up. Since it is great for fattening animals up, I will give it to them in the winter. So they can use those extra calories to build or keep a nice layer of fat and just keep warm. I also tend to give my sheep and goats more sweet feed in the winter to keep them “well-rounded” but not too much if they are pregnant. Sometimes also I give them a little molasses in some warm water to get them through the winter, especially on the coldest days of the year.

I’m sure there are a lot of things I am missing here but these are just a few ways we can keep our animals more comfortable during rigid weather. If you have any other tips, I would looks to hear about it in an email or in the comments below.

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