Here in northern Michigan, January can be brutal. This year hasn’t been as bad as “normal”, but right now we are in the midst of a ton of lake effect snow – up to 10 inches. The weekend forecast is for that much system snow. Ugh. Keeping everyone warm can be a difficult thing to do, especially when it comes to the farm animals.
One thing to remember about farm animals, however, is that, for the most part, they are warmer than we think they are. That’s because they have fur and, oftentimes, undercoats (light fur or hair that keeps the animal warm underneath the topcoat of coarse fur). An example of an animal with an undercoat is a Labrador Retriever. Labs shed something awful in the spring and summer – a result of shedding that undercoat for warmer weather.
For the animals that we can’t realistically bring inside – think 20+ chickens or three lively goats – we need to provide plenty of fresh water, dry bedding (straw or wood shavings), and warming foods. The food that is most warming to pheasants, quail, ducks, and chickens is corn. We buy bags of cracked corn in the winter to feed the birds when it is extremely cold outside. I also like to save bacon grease and use it to mix with corn or other grains and seeds to form treats for the birds. To do this, just mix enough grain and seeds, along with herbs if you like to use them, with the melted bacon grease. If you have extra lard to use up, this is a good choice too. As for the herbs, I often put in oregano that I have dehydrated over the summer. Plastic tarps attached to the bird pens make great windbreaks and we utilize them a lot.
The goats are comfy in their barn stall that is filled with warm, dry bedding. They have each other to cuddle up against and most of the time, their body heat is enough. If they run out of water, they will get cold, as will any other animal. We all need hydration. When the temps dip below zero degrees Fahrenheit, we use a heat lamp placed where the goats cannot nibble at the cord or knock it down. You have to be creative when working with goats! Goats love dehydrated cucumber chips (I make my own for my winter salads, but I don’t mind sharing). They also LOVE pine needles, particularly white pine. The needles are a natural dewormer.
The bunny, a lop eared brown fur ball, doesn’t have too much trouble staying warm. He too has a pen with soft bedding and plenty of food and fresh water. He likes treats, and corn can figure in to that mix. We do try to give him variety by adding fresh carrots and celery to the mix. Again, it is water that makes the difference in warmth. Animals need drinking water to stay warm!
The ducks can stay warm if they have shelter boxes strewn around the aviary. Mostly, they stay warm by keeping themselves on the ponds – provided the water is open and not frozen! It doesn’t make sense in a human’s eyes, but ducks stay warm on the water because their feathers are full of oils that repel that water. They do not get soaked. Also, the water is what keeps them safe from most predators. Other animals and birds don’t take kindly to open water. Treats are often in the form of dried mealworms or cracked corn.
As for the two cats and two dogs – they have better living quarters than anyone else in the barnyard. The cats don’t get outside at all unless they are sneaky and run out the door when it is opened. When that happens, they usually just want back inside and cry at the door.
We burn wood in a wood burning stove for the main source of heat in the house. We also have a wood burning cook stove in the kitchen and we use that if we need to. It’s my goal to get more comfortable with the cook stove in the future, but it’s something that takes a lot of time. I work a part-time day job and just don’t have the time to keep feeding small logs into the stove every now and then to keep the stove hot. We do have hot water radiant heat, which is great but expensive since it is fueled by propane.
All in all, it’s not that hard to keep everyone warm in the winter, but it does require attention.