On the Farm: Winter
Winter is hard! It’s hard on people, hard on our gardens and hard on our animals. Our dogs and cats can’t go outside for as long, or perhaps as often, as they can in other seasons, and like us, start to get cabin fever. Students and parents often ask about our school animals. How do they get through winter?
Our farm animals are, without a doubt, babied more than most farm animals! I spend much of fall and winter watching the weather and shoring up our feed supplies. Hay and chicken feed are the two things we stock up on most because the animals quite literally consume double the amount of food they do in the spring and summer. It makes complete sense. There are no insects or seeds readily available for our free-ranging birds and there is nothing growing in the paddock for the mammals so they all rely on us to supply their food.
We take extra care in the winter to make sure barns, coops and hutches are kept dry and have adequate ventilation. Just like us, animals are susceptible to respiratory issues if exposed to dampness for extended periods. Keeping a window open and fresh bedding down reduces the chances of animals getting sick.
I admit I probably go overboard on their bedding. As soon as the nights start dropping into the 30s, our four-legged friends get several inches of wheat straw to snuggle into in their barn. Straw is hollow and traps warm air in its stems. It also traps moisture which means it needs to be replaced regularly to avoid a build-up of mold. In the summer, they sleep on pine straw which is cooler (it doesn’t trap air) and repels insects.
Oscar and Emmy, our rabbits, also get their nesting box and bottom level of their hutch filled with straw to insulate their little space. For them, if the temperatures dip below 25°, they go inside in a large dog crate for the night.
Chickens and turkeys are tough! They need very little extra in terms of winter care. They get a little extra corn in their feed which apparently generates internal heat as it is digested. The lower half of the coop is wrapped in plastic to create a wind barrier that prevents drafts inside of the roost. A single chicken generates 10 watts of heat so our 15 chickens will generate 150w in that little space. They huddle together and keep each other nice and toasty!
So, while most farm animals can take good care of themselves in the winter weather, ours get just a little extra Springmont TLC!