The storm earlier this week drove us to make some moves on animal winter housing. For whatever numerous reasons there were several things that weren't done. After several years of mistakes in winterizing the animals we have learned alot...and we still have plenty to learn.
One thing I had to get used to was the idea that animals (like us) live in more confined ways in the winter.
We like to support our animals living in a manner that suits their natural tendencies. We put our hens and meat birds on pasture in the summer. Our pigs have a large range of woods and pasture three seasons a year. We use our goats to clear woodland so they always have over an acre of brushy undergrowth they are working on. The reality is that snow and electric fencing don't really mix too well and animals like the pony require careful turnout in the winter so they don't hurt themselves on icy patches. Everyone has a decent enough coat (or thick enough skin..and fat) to endure the cold but they also require some decent shelter from stiff winds and wet precipitation. Basically, being cold is OK, but being wet and cold and drafty is not. I can relate! After discussing the whole winter "confinement" matter with several other farmers--who also pasture their meat and dairy critters-- over time, I became more comfy with the idea of cozying everyone up for the winter. Plus, by the end of winter, we have a nice huge pile of manure that can go on the gardens!!!
Slowly we worked up to a small list of winter residents that forced us to learn a whole new set of skills and practices. Right now we are housing:
3 Alpine Dairy Goats
2 Large Black Hogs (sow possibly expecting)
1 medium pony
1 6 month old Dexter heifer
8 laying hens
So there are surely many ways to care for your animals in the winter but I thought I might share how we do it...which is forever changing...in the spirit of the ol' Grange Hall. The way that farmers have been learning, and doing and sharing since the early days of farming.
The hens, per my last post, are living in the lap of luxury in their solar heated hoop house accomodation.
To winterize the goats we use sheep fence (wire 5 inch square mesh) and make a smaller sized corral around their house. This fence is not electrified and they stay in no problem. We throw in evergreen boughs all winter for browse. They get straw bedding which is deep packed (we dont change it til spring) and they get hay and a little extra grain.
The pigs got moved into a large stall in the barn which they lovingly share. That gets mucked twice daily and they get some hay bedding which they also munch on.
The calf is in the next stall over. She gets tons of hay...mucked daily and ideally brushed daily---trying to make her super tame for milking...thats my goal anyway. It seems to be going well.
The pony wears a blanket and lives mostly in his stall although he gets walks and turnout into the snowy pasture--which he loves to roll in. He also gets dengi to supplement his forage diet and help him enjoy eating a little more in the face of declining dental health---oh getting old is tough.
We keep a little NPR or some such on the barn radio to keep everyone company -- and well informed -- and we, so far, have been pretty happy with how everyone is faring this winter. We finally feel like we have the beginnings of a "system" down. And we can reasonably afford our grain bill (ahem).
Of course--just when things are getting familiar--your sheep farmer friend calls to lure you with her 12 prospective blue liecester X lambs...just a couple wethers...beauuuuutiful fiber.....easy keepers....OH DEAR! Are things about to change...again??