Inquiries about winter care are some of the most frequently asked questions during my backyard chicken and goat classes, as future animal owners consider the challenges of raising animals that have to live outside 24/7 -- even during the harshest conditions.
|Adventurous chicken tracks|
Water: As every animal owner knows, it's important to never let your critters go without water. And unfortunately, frozen water is as good as no water. Luckily, there are many different ways to keep your water from freezing. You can purchase a heated base for your water dispenser, or buy a heater that floats in the water bucket. If you spend most of the day at home, you can simply boil a teakettle of water from time to time, and use it to melt the ice that's formed in the water bucket.
My friend Jamie has a special trick she likes to use for her chickens and goats. She has a small, insulated cooler (the kind you'd fill with ice and soda cans before a picnic). She makes her animals their special "tea" by heating water on the stove, then pouring it into the open cooler. The insulation keeps the water warm, and the animals absolutely love to drink from it on cold days.
Food: Cold weather is no time to skimp on food. Goats, especially, use the process of ruminating their hay to warm their bodies. Give a little extra food to both your chickens and goats, so they can eat everything they need to keep their bodies nice and toasty.
Attention: While your animals don't need a constant babysitter during cold weather (though they always like the company), making an extra trip or two out to the barnyard to check on things is advisable. It's nice to be able to spot a burned-out heating lamp, or a chicken that stumbled into the water dish and now has damp feathers, before the cold weather turns the situation into an emergency. 99.9% of the time things will be just fine when you pop outside to check, but the peace of mind you get is worth the effort.
While cold snaps may add a few minutes to your daily animal care routine, you'll soon find that winter weather is nothing to fear. Happy backyard-animal-raising!