Word on the street is that winter 2015-16 is going to the coldest in decades for the eastern and central US.
Now, I don’t know about you, but I am already thinking ahead to spring and how I plan to plant the garden, and I have my favorite heirloom seed catalogs laid out, deciding what to order to fill in the gaps in my seed bank.
This cold blast has put the kibosh on my in-front-of-the-fire spring dreaming, and driven me outside in multiple layers to ensure that the homestead is battened down.
I have goats who have kidded in the last week, so I have given these ‘kidding clips’ (up the backs of the legs and up and over the tail) in order that any after birth doesn’t get stuck to the fur and freeze.
Unfortunately, this also means that udders are shaved, so care needs to be taken that they don’t encounter frostbite. If you’re milking, a good layer of udder balm after milking and drying the udder will provide a protective layer from the chill. The same goes for cattle.
In my experience, furry livestock can either handle being cold or wet – not both. Beware of chills, bloat and pneumonia during cold weather, particularly when it is as extreme as we are seeing.
Bring animals into an enclosed barn if possible, particularly any young stock. If you do not have one, a three sided barn is also good; really just make sure they have somewhere to remain dry and get out of the wind.
My barn is open at both ends, so I have thrown aesthetics to the dogs and hung tarps as wind breaks. It’s surprising how effective they are at protecting from the wind chill, which was down in the -20s last week. That’s really something for the South.
Hay is a great thing; when livestock eat and digest hay, it produces warmth from the inside out. It can be likened to us eating a bowl of hot oatmeal. Ruminants can work on digesting hay long after they have consumed it all, as they can lay in a warm corner and chew their cud. I’m a fan of rolling a round bale into an open barn and letting them have at it.
Horses can be blanketed and left out providing they are not clipped for heavy work. Mine like to go down deep in the woods, out of the worst of the weather, and stand nose to tail to wait it out.
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Again – out of the wind is key. Chickens can fluff and huddle to keep warm, but a harsh wind, coupled with rain, can really cause harm. Guess what? More tarps. I hang them.
If you offer corn in the evenings, they can fill their crops and then it will digest slowly overnight, keeping them warm in the way that hay keeps livestock warm. Plenty of water is an absolute must.
As it seems to freeze within minutes of being put out these days, I make sure to go out with water a couple of times a day. I’ve been subjected to the ‘warm water freezes faster‘ instructional by a neighbor many times, but I still persist in taking them body temperature water to drink. I don’t know if it helps them or not, but I can’t imagine that drinking ice cold water in cold weather is pleasant!
Another helpful tip here is to wear rubber dish washing gloves under your regular gloves. That way you can stay warm – and dry – even when dealing with doling out water. I forgot to do this one day and now have wind scorched hands that are cracking and sore.
You may be tempted to run a heat lamp out to a coop, but I urge you to not do it. The risk of fire is greatly disproportionate to the benefits it provides, and really, chickens are hardier than you think.
A little vaseline on the combs and wattles will help to prevent frostbite and, in my experience, square roosts are better than round because they are less likely to freeze to them.
If you are not able to bring them insidee, be sure to provide them with a kennel or other adequate enclosure, with hay available to burrow down in.
I usually leave a window ajar in the shop to allow outside cats to get in out of the weather. Be sure to use caution when you fire up a vehicle, a cat may have decided that under the hood is a good place to shelter!
Livestock dogs are usually happier in the barn with their stock than anywhere else. If the stock is staying out in the pasture then just make sure they have somewhere to shelter; I’m a fan of two pallets propped against each other in an inverted V shape, with another of my trusty tarps tied over the top.
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Buildings, farm equipment, and gardens:
You’re unlikely to have any veggies in the ground right now, but in the event you still have root crops going, throw an old blanket over them to keep them free of the worst of the frost. A cold snap often makes root vegetables sweeter, but this is going beyond a frost!
Obviously, disconnect hoses from faucets and allow them to drain so that they don’t freeze. Wrap outside faucets in blankets or towels and then in a trash bag. I can’t guarantee this will stop them freezing, but it might help!
I usually try to make sure that the tractor and lawn tractor are under the shelter of the barn when the weather is like this. If we had room to bring them inside a closed structure, I would.
Good luck working your way through this; it’s surely a tough winter we’re facing this year. But a few preparations can make life so much easier – for you and the animals.