Preparing your Hobby Farm for Winter
If you have a hobby farm, or acreage, you may be wondering how to prepare for the winter. How to keep your animals warm in cold weather, or how to feed livestock animals in winter.
Your animals can eat snow in the winter but this is generally not a good idea. An animal must eat a lot of snow to equal any amount of water because snow is mostly air. Your animals may chose to eat snow on their own but this should never be their only option, it is very hard on them particularly on cold days.
You can provide insulated waterers, or put a water heater in the trough to keep it from freezing up. There are many types of heaters available at a livestock feed and supply store. There are also special systems to help you insulate your water troughs also available at the livestock feed stores.
If you do not have a way to keep water unthawed for drinking all day, be sure to bring out buckets of fresh water at least twice a day.
If you have birds you will want to prevent ducks from swimming as they can freeze their feet, but you still need to provide them with water for drinking. If you have any type of outdoor pet bird you should plan on bringing warm water out at least twice a day for them to drink.
Feeding Livestock in the Winter
Some people put a big round bale of hay in the pasture and allow animals to eat whenever they want. You must be sure to have a bale holder because otherwise the bale may one day fall over on your animals as they will usually eat from the bottom.
If you are feeding hay you should be sure to keep the food off the ground where it can be ruined and wasted with urine and manure. I have a feeder for my sheep but have found the lambs often like to jump right in to get more food. You need to have these feeders in place before winter.
Livestock animals generally need more food, and more protein, in the winter, particularly if they are pregnant. Most people will give their animals a grain ration, or increase the grain ration the animals already were on. Some people will add a third feeding to the day to make sure their animals get enough to eat.
If your animals are not use to eating grain increase their diet gradually or you can make them very ill.
Use feeding times to check for health problems in your animals, any animal that is slow to come for meals should be checked closer.
Your barn should be winterized by checking for drafty areas. Goats and poultry are less tolerant of drafts than most other farm animals. If it has not been used since last winter you should go around checking for nails sticking out and so forth. The barn should be insulated.
If you have birds you may want to provide a 60 watt light bulb in the coop as this will provide just enough warmth to keep them warm. You may put straw bales around the outside of a small coop for insulation. Some birds, such as peacocks, must be kept warm, if the blood in their long tails freeze they could die.
A totally air tight barn may become too hot and humid, as such good circulation is a must.
If your barn has water be sure all pipes are insulated and protected against freezing.
The barn should be well stocked with supplies before it gets cold, as well you will want to replace any light bulbs that are not working. You may even want to purchase a heat lamp in case you need it later to keep young animals warm if you are breeding your animals.
Stalls should be bedded deep with straw, or shavings.
I like to have the feed room well stocked before the weather gets cold.
Have extra blankets and towels in the barn, if you have animals that will be giving birth over the winter these can be used to dry or to warm the newborn animals.
Other Tips to get Ready for Winter
Before the weather gets too cold it is important to check your fences for needed repairs. Put all equipment away where you can find it before it becomes hidden by the snow.
Make sure you have extra shovels for digging out problem areas.
A calf sled can be very handy to have in winter if you have to haul anything over snow.
If you are expecting the birth of any livestock animals over the winter be aware that sometimes you may have orphaned animals to care for and you need to be prepared for this - you may want to have a special area in the house for lambs, or goat kids, or a warm stall in your barn ready for this use. You may want to buy supplies for bottle feeding ahead of time particularly if you have a large number of animals.
If you have farm cats be sure they also have warm places to sleep in the winter and have extra food.
Be aware that when weather temperatures fluctuate animals are at risk for respiratory problems such as pneumonia.
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