(See part 1: Preparing For Winter)
Wouldn’t it be nice if the dropping temperatures meant that work around the farm could slow down for a while? Unfortunately, the colder weather means it’s time to complete a whole new set of chores to prepare your homestead and livestock for winter. Preparing ahead for the food, water, and shelter needs of your animals will make life easier for you over the winter and ensure that your animals thrive all winter long. The good news is, with a little preparation before the cold sets in, winter really can provide an excellent opportunity to recharge before springtime arrives.
Planning Ahead for Your Winter Water Source
One of the first things to consider is your winter water source. Your water source must be reliable, clean, and protected from freezing to ensure the health of your livestock. It’s best not to rely on natural sources like ponds, streams, or springs because they will freeze during the winter making it difficult or impossible to get water.
Since your animals will need access to clean, fresh water throughout the day, consider investing in a water tank heater or a heated water trough to keep their tank from freezing. You can also purchase smaller, heated water buckets for your smaller livestock.
To prepare your winter water source, you should insulate your pipes and faucets to prevent them from freezing. Letting the water drip on frigid nights or using heat tape can also prevent freezing overnight. Hoses should be put away for the winter to prevent them from freezing and bursting. If you rely on electricity to pump your water, be sure to have a backup electrical source, such as a generator, to pump water in case a winter storm takes your power out.
Planning Ahead for Wintertime Feeding
If your animals got most of their food from foraging during the warmer seasons, it’s time to prepare additional food sources for the winter. Be prepared for your animals to eat more in the winter because they burn more calories trying to stay warm. When the weather is very windy or cold, they will need extra, high-quality food for heat energy.
If you live in an area where winter storms are frequent, it’s a good idea to keep at least a couple weeks’ worth of food on hand for all of your animals in case roads become impassible. You’ll want to start by laying in a good supply of hay. Depending on what type of livestock you have, you may need to keep grain and supplements on hand as well.
Providing Adequate Shelter for Your Larger Livestock
Your animals must have access to shelter when the temperatures drop, and the winds pick up. Even though certain animals such as sheep, cattle, and horses can do fine outside all winter, they still need access to shelter during storms to keep them dry and out of the wind. Before the temperatures drop, make sure you have adequate housing.
Livestock that remains outside for the winter should have a three-sided shelter to escape the wind and wet weather.
For animals that spend the worst of the winter weather in the barn, a nice thick bedding of straw can go a long way toward keeping them warm when temperatures drop. Be sure to have a plentiful supply on hand. It’s best to avoid the use of heat lamps in the barn because they can present a severe fire hazard. With plenty of straw bedding and freedom from drafts, your animals should be fine in the barn, unless they are very young or very old. Using the buddy system is excellent for helping animals stay warm, too.
Clean the barn thoroughly before cold weather takes hold. Scrutinize your barn and other shelters and take care of any necessary repairs while the weather is still decent. Be sure to repair any leaks in your barn roof before winter and make sure your roof is in good repair, so it can handle a heavy snow load. This is also the time to complete any needed fence repairs.
How to Winterize Your Chicken Coop
Chickens generally handle cold temperatures pretty well, but you should still do everything you can to keep them as warm as possible. When the temperatures get really cold, you can staple a sheet of thick, clear plastic over the outside of the coop to keep out wind and cold at night, just be sure to allow for adequate ventilation.
Do give the coop a good cleaning in autumn but consider using the deep litter method during the winter for extra warmth. The litter and manure will actually generate heat to help keep your animals warm as they break down. This method can also work for your other animals, too.
Heat lamps are hazardous, but if your winters are frigid and harsh, you could put up some insulation on the inside of the coop. Bubble wrap or cardboard can both work well in a pinch.
You may also want to bring their water inside the coop for the winter to help keep it from freezing. Heated waterers come in sizes small enough for chicken coops, too. Feeding the chickens cracked corn in the evening can also help them to stay warm at night.
Other Tips for Winter Livestock Care
Here are some other things to keep in mind for winter livestock care.
• Any needed hoof trimming, vaccinating, or de-worming should be done before winter hits.
• If you are expecting a big winter storm, give your animals extra food and water the night before in case you can’t get outside to tend the animals first thing in the morning.
• If you will be milking through the winter, make sure you have a warm, covered place where you can milk out of the wet, mud, and cold.
• Collect your eggs more frequently in the winter to keep them from freezing.
Once the cold sets in, doing outside chores will be much more enjoyable if you’ve taken the time to makes some preparations. You will also be able to relax and enjoy the slower pace of winter time, knowing you’ve done everything you can to keep your livestock safe and healthy.
(See part 1: Preparing For Winter)