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When you keep animals in the great northeast, winter is no joke. You prepare your barn and winter stores like a frenzied battle Sargent, arming yourself against one of your greatest foes. While other people are talking about how much they love the fall, you are frantically calculating winter hay storage and dreading the first frost.
I belong to a lot of different farm groups and animal care forums, and as the cold weather approaches, people start to panic and ask for advice on keeping their livestock warm through the winter months. As someone who has seen goats and chickens through blizzards and sub zero temperatures, here is my best advice:
#1 – Forget the Heat Lamp
So many people think that heat lamps are the ultimate solution to keeping their animals warm and toasty through the winter months. However, the risks that come with using heat lamps far outweigh the benefits. The number of farms that loose their homes, their barns, and their beloved animals to fires caused by heat lamps every winter is heartbreaking. If you’re in an area like ours, you also run the risk of loosing power, sometimes for days at a time. If your animals are used to a nice warm environment and are suddenly plunged into sub zero temperatures by a power outage, you could be looking at serious consequences. In addition to that, the electric bill you’ll rack up on top of your already astronomical winter expenses could be enough to give you a total meltdown.
#2 – Be Draft Free
A bad draft on a windy day can drive the temperature down in any animal housing. Make sure you spend time looking for any potential draft sources in you animal shelters and get them stopped up. Just be sure you still leave adequate ventilation, usually near the top of the enclosure.
#3 – Blanket With Caution
A lot of people think that blanketing their animals is an easy way to keep them warm. The problem with this is that by putting a blanket (or jacket or sweatshirt, etc.) you can be robbing your animals of being able to use their natural defenses against the cold. Blankets can impede winter hair growth, and prevent your animals from being able to puff out their fur and keep warm naturally. Blanketing is usually only suggested for extremely underweight or ill animals in extreme cold situations.
#4 – Adjust Your Feeding Routine
Additional calories are a great way to help your animals combat the cold, as well as specific additives. A little cracked corn before bedtime is great for helping chickens stay warm overnight. Our goats always get buckets of piping hot water when the weather gets cold, and anyone who is shivering and having a rough go at it will get some Nutri Drench or a molasses drench to help them through. Most animals will go through a lot of hay as well as it gets colder, so make sure it is always available to accommodate the increase in consumption. Also, be sure to check water buckets frequently so that they remain filled and free of ice – dehydration can be a serious threat with the cold.
#5 – Bedding
Make sure to provide plenty of clean, dry bedding, especially to those animals who like to burrow. Goats and pig appreciate piles of hay to snuggle into, and chickens should always have dry and clean footing to keep excess moisture from freezing.
#6 – Chill Out
The most important thing to remember, is that animals have survived the cold countless years without the assistance of humans. As long as your animals are healthy and well cared for, there’s no reason for them not to make it through the winter months with no problems. As long as you’re providing adequate food, shelter and maintenance, try not too loose any sleep and let mother nature take care of the rest.