Winter finally showed up this week with cold, snowy, windy weather. Before this week, we’ve had a few cold days and some light snow but nothing too bad. This week has been and next will be extremely cold with highs anywhere from -2 to low teens. The windchills though are dangerously low at -25ish. I want to share how we prepare our livestock for the winter weather. Preparing for winter begins towards the end of Fall before the first hard freeze.
The first thing is making sure that everyone has a shelter from the north wind. The Finnsheep flock (and any smaller or older hair sheep) has access to the old limestone barn. It is built into a hill and on the south side of our shed so it is pretty warm. The goats are all in smaller pens that have south-facing three-sided sheds in them. Each of these sheds has round bales stacked behind them during the winter. This provides an amazing amount of warmth in the sheds. Goats hate the cold weather and these sheds are the warmest we have when the bales are on the north side of them.
The hair sheep flock also has a south-facing three-sided shed in their paddock as well as access to a few other small sheds. Our chickens and ducks are in a large coop and have protection from the wind as well. Lane is also very good about giving the chickens warm water a couple of times a day. Chickens and ducks are amazingly resilient when it comes to the cold weather as long as they can get out of the wind.
Every tank has a heater in it to keep the water from freezing. They work great but a thin layer of ice will sometimes still form on the water when it gets to the single-digit temps. A thin layer of ice is still much better than trying to break through thick ice several times a day! We do not have automatic water tanks on our farm (hopefully someday!) so for now we have to drain the hose every time we use it. If it doesn’t get drained or too much water is sitting at the end of it, the hose has to come into the house and sit in the shower until it thaws….not fun!
During the winter, we feed brome hay to all the sheep, goats, and horses. When it is colder than usual they all get extra hay. The extra hay helps their rumens to generate more body heat. All horses and Finnsheep receive grain and the goats get some alfalfa pellets. Most of the time the hair sheep are very hardy and don’t need the extra calories.
The Finns need the extra calories from grain when they are pregnant because they have such high rates of multiples. Last year, we had a set of healthy quads and several sets of triplets and attribute their health to adding grain to their diet in the winter when they are bred. We learned the hard way a couple of years ago that bred Finns need extra calories to grow all those healthy lambs. Some day, I will share more about the lessons we have learned going from hair sheep to Finns.
There are a few animals here that love the cold. The livestock guardian dogs are built for this weather. They have access to shelter but will rarely use it. Snow days are their favorite days and will spend a lot of time running, digging, chasing, and playing when it’s this cold out. We also offer them extra food in the winter.
Winter is not my favorite because I hate putting on all of the layers to go outside. Once we get out, it’s usually not too bad unless the wind is blowing hard that day. We are moving fast enough, that I am usually sweating by the time we finish everything. This week, the 20-40 mph wind does make your face hurt.
Chores are harder in the winter and require more work on our part. However, if I am being completely honest I don’t mind them that much because it forces me to get outside when I would otherwise not go out willingly. The physical labor of loading and unloading small square bales of hay multiple times a day helps to keep me strong. Plus, I know that right around the corner is springtime. And with spring comes my favorite season on the ranch, kidding and lambing!