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(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)

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Geese and Guineas for Homestead Security

Birds as livestock guardians? Yes! And, they just might be the best critter for the job! We’ve talked about using llamas, donkeys, and dogs to guard our livestock, but did you know that some species of birds can make excellent guard animals, too? Birds could, in fact, be the perfect off-grid security solution for your homestead!

Using Geese for Homestead Security

If you want an animal that’s going to stay close to home and protect and defend your livestock and farm, consider a flock of guard geese. Believe it or not, geese have been used to protect police stations in China and to patrol prison yards in Brazil. Geese can be every bit as effective as a guard dog, and they do it on instinct. You don’t even have to train them.

All geese, but especially males, are extremely territorial. While most domestic geese retain their ability to fly, they choose not to. Once they know your farm is home, they will defend it from intruders, to the death if need be. Geese have even been successfully used as a defense against coyotes! Now that says something, doesn’t it?

Geese will bond with their owners and the other animals around them if they are brought to your farm as chicks. Anyone else, human or animal, is likely to be treated as an intruder and viciously attacked on sight. Their exceptional eyesight and hearing makes them perfect for detecting intruders both day and night. They also have a wide field of view, thanks to their widely spaced eyes.

Geese really know how to sound an alarm. Once they’ve noticed an intruder, there’s no stopping their honking until the threat is gone, and often for a good while afterwards, too! Geese are flock animals, so they are happiest in a group. That means intruders will face multiple defenders at once. Each goose comes armed with a sharp serrated beak that’s capable of inflicting some serious bites. But, that’s not all! Their wings are weapons, too. They are capable of beating their opponent so hard that they could actually break bones. And, certain breeds of domestic geese can weigh as much as 22 pounds! That’s a lot of power behind their punch.

If all that wasn’t enough, geese are easy to keep. Their food preference is to graze on grass. They are excellent foragers, so if there’s plenty of grass available, they won’t need much additional feed. Domestic geese don’t fly south for the winter, but prefer to stay at their home base. They don’t mind the cold and their downy feathers and webbed feet provide excellent insulation. Even better, they lay delicious eggs and they can live for up to 20 years. They make good moms and are quite capable of raising up their own young to expand the flock or fill the freezer.

The biggest con to having a flock of geese on the homestead is that they don’t know the difference between a hostile intruder and a friendly intruder. And, you’re not going to be able to call them off like you can a dog. They might attack the mailman or any other visitor that comes to your farm. You should be prepared to put them in some sort of pen when you’re expecting company, especially if the company includes small children!

Using Guinea Fowl for Homestead Security

Guineas are another multi-purpose bird that can be very useful on the homestead. A flock of guineas will work as a team, staying in a tight group as they forage around the farm looking for insects, small rodents, and snakes to eat. They have excellent hearing and eyesight and they’re always on the alert.

As a guardian animal, they attack in groups to chase off smaller poultry-eating predators including cats, opossums, and even raccoons. Your farm cats will learn really quick to stay clear of the guineas! Guineas have a natural hatred of snakes. They are fearless, and they’ve been used by ranchers to keep dangerous snakes like copperheads and rattlers away from the flocks. If you have problems with snakes eating your chicken eggs, keep some guineas around and you won’t have problems anymore! Groups of guineas will surround a snake, or other small predator, and literally peck it to death.

Guineas are also commonly used by the homesteader as an alarm animal. A flock of guineas that has spotted an intruder, human or animal, can be deafening. Over time, you learn to tell the difference between their normal noise and their alarm noise. You know that when they are raising an alarm you better go out and see what’s going on! They will alert you to the presence of all sorts of predators, including coyotes and stray dogs, and pretty much anything else that doesn’t belong.

Guineas are useful as pest control, too. If you have problems with ticks in your area, a flock of guineas will gobble them up pretty quick and keep them under control. In the garden, guineas can be used to patrol the crops for pests. They won’t do nearly as much damage to your plants as chickens will, and they will keep the bugs well under control. Just wait until your plants are pretty large before giving the guineas access to the garden because they may dig up seedlings in freshly worked soil.

Guinea hens lay delicious eggs, but only in the spring and early summer. Their eggs are a little smaller than chicken eggs and they are light brown in color. If you keep your guineas confined until they are done laying in the morning, it will be much easier to find the eggs. However, they will forage most of their food if allowed, so they’re very cheap to keep around.

Guineas do have some less endearing qualities you should be aware of, though. For one, guineas like to converse a lot, so they are noisy all the time, not just when they are sounding an alarm. If you have close neighbors, that could be an issue. Also, guineas don’t like to be confined. They will wander into neighbors’ yards looking for food and they prefer to roost in the trees at night if they can get away with it. They do, however, love millet and can be trained to come to their house at night for a treat, especially if you start when they’re keets. Also, guineas are not very smart, and they are vulnerable to larger predators like coyotes and foxes. Guineas are horrible mothers, so you’re better off incubating the eggs and brooding the keets yourself, or you could let a broody hen do it.


I’m a big believer in multiple layers of protection on the homestead. Having geese or guineas around as an alarm system and for protection against smaller predators makes good sense. Add in a larger guardian animal for protection against big predators and the best fencing you can afford, and you’ll have a very effective off-grid homestead security system.

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