I am often asked in winter about how the animals cope with our cold climate. All of the breeds actually manage rather well as long as you provide them warm, dry surroundings where they can escape wind, fresh water and enough food so that their body generates heat through digestion. The goats and sheep need fresh dry straw put in their stall as needed. The sheep need it more often as they urinate more and break up the straw more with their hooves; but then, those trampling legs is what will make the sheep useful come springtime to push pasture seeds into the ground (sprinkled with some sheep ‘fertilizer’) and improve the quality of the field.
Each animal stall has two sliding doors. In the winter only one door in each is left partially open.
We put in a Woodford Freezeless Hydrant outside the barn so that we can get water year round at the barn. It is a simple yet very effective design. The valve for the hydrant lies below the frost line and when the hydrant is off, the water drains out a hole in the pipe above the shutoff valve therefore no water in the hydrant freezes. After previously lugging buckets up and down the hill in winter , this hydrant is probably the thing I appreciate the most at the barn!
The regular 5 gallon buckets for the sheep and goats is replaced by a bucket with a heating element in the bottom that has a temperature-sensing shutoff. The cat bowl is the same idea. When we designed the barn layout we made sure the cords to the buckets could be relatively concealed from the animals (although they do come wire-wrapped for protection from curious teeth) and the outlets must be entire, impossibly, totally, absolutely out of reach of the animals. Completely.
Hay generates more energy than grain during digestion so we go through a lot of hay in the winter. How much hay? Well, in the deep of winter 3 goats and 2 sheep eat 5 bales of hay in 8-9 days. In the height of summer they only eat one bale of hay in the same amount of time. In this part of the country hay is the most expensive thing about keeping the sheep and goats. It’s important to consider this cost when deciding on how many animals to have because our winters are long!
On really cold nights (close to 0F or below) I give the goats and sheep beet pulp mash and molasses. I use Speedi-beet that I received as samples last year and it has lasted me two winters. You only need 1Tbs of dried beet pulp per animal.
Last, but very important, is making sure to keep minerals and baking soda topped up for the barn animals in winter. Young goats and sheep tend not to eat much of their minerals but as they mature they naturally start to take more as they need it. The first winter the goats had watery runny eyes. I learned this was due to a deficiency in Vit A and I supplemented the goats with Cod Liver Oil. I didn’t always have their minerals topped up as they never touched them and often knocked them off. This year I find I’m topping up all of their loose minerals every three days and no one has had runny eyes.
I’ll be posting soon about our chicken coop design and about the most important things to consider. However, with regards to winter I would say the most important thing for warm healthy chickens is getting your stocking rate right. If you have enough chickens in your coop they all generate heat for each other and the coop and below 20F they have a heat lamp hanging as well to supplement. The galvanized waterer sits on a heated base which switches on below 40F. Outside the coop their run is tarped to keep snow and drafts out.
The chickens, too, eat A LOT in the winter. The most work involved this time of year for chickens is lugging buckets of feed to them every other day. About 18 chickens and 4 turkeys eat 50lbs of feed in a week. And if you feed organic feed like we do, I don’t know how you could keep that many birds if you didn’t sell the eggs to offset the cost.
So those are the special accommodations we make for winter here at Henny Penny Farm. But as of today we are only 22 days away from the first day of Spring so we won’t be doing any of this for much longer!