Monday, 29 November 2010

Preparedness in the barnyard

by Throwback at Trapper Creek

Most conversations about preparedness center around the household. All well and good. But in our modern homesteading world many times we stock our pantries very well, but the barn cupboard may be a little bare. It's pretty easy to run to the feedstore and pick up a bale or two, a bag of scratch or alfalfa pellets. We are an on-demand society of consumers, but to be more self-reliant we need to scale back our on-demand ways a little in regards to our livestock that help us produce food, fiber etc., for our table.

In our area that normally doesn't really experience any long-lasting winter storms, when one does hit, it's not unusual to see people unprepared for the cold, and wintry weather, so I won't write about water and feeding systems for areas that always experience months of freezing weather, rather I will dwell on having flexible systems and supplies on hand just in case, for more moderate climes that experience short duration storms. Consider this a drill for a real emergency. Winter is a good time to assess your stock keeping capabilities. Do you have enough storage for feed, adequate water, enough money to keep your stock all winter? Can you get more feed, if needed? Do you have like animals in groups, or pairs so they can keep warm and commiserate? Nothing worse than a lonely pig... . And a huge one - do you have enough time to do extra care taking during the cold weather if need be?

Keeping stock hydrated goes a long way towards helping them cope with cold temperatures. We like these tough, Rubbermaid water troughs. We sometimes have to chop a little ice, but you can save yourself some trouble by only putting out the water the stock actually needs for a day. The 50 gallon trough in this photo is for my daughter's horse. She only puts in what he will drink for the day, and she dumps it at night. Less water, less ice. She places his trough within reach of a hose, and when she is done, she drains the hose and puts it away. Nothing worse than having a frozen hose full of ice.

The cows only drink once a day also in this cold weather. I feed them, they tank up on hay, and then come and drink. When we fed outside all winter, and they went to the canyon for water, they would all trail to water once a day, and according to rank, drink their fill and then trail back to bed down and ruminate. Anthropomorphizing makes us think the animals need all the comforts we have, like running water at all times, and feed all the time. But they really can be comfortable with the basics. Don't go overboard - especially during stressful times during storms. You have to take care of yourself too.

Being prepared by having extra feed on hand can be a life saver. Plus, livestock need to eat more during cold weather in order to stay warm, it's amazing how fast a growing pig will go through feed in a cold snap. One thing that helps is to have a higher protein feed source available for cold snaps. Feed your best hay, bump your chickens up to grower ration, throw a little extra something to the pigs. It all helps.

And there is something to be said for only taking the bare necessities of stock through the winter, and keeping a seasonal schedule. On our farm, we don't want any young stock that couldn't be weaned if a catastrophe arose, and we time breeding for no babies being born this time of year. Sure, it makes for good dramatic blog entries to be risking life and limb to save a piglet or calf from the cold. But in reality, it is kind of cruel to animals and their tenders alike and is just another unintended consequence of our on-demand society. There is no seasonal differences in the grocery store - just one big ol' homogenized food storage area. If you want to grow your own food, grow it, and grow it in season.

Back to the subject of water, these small indestructible tubs are great too, for small stock. We use a gravity flow bell waterer for the chickens, but despite being placed on the south side of the greenhouse for thawing, that assumes we get sun. That doesn't always happen. To keep chickens laying eggs in the winter, it is imperative they have water during the day. Usually a tub like this suffices until the thaw. Just a stop gap measure, but it does work and is easy to clean when it gets soiled. These also work good for pigs for a short spell, it's just that pigs like to play, and inevitably that water tub will end up in the pig toilet area, with smirking pigs looking on while you retrieve it for them. I have yet to see hens do that...

This past cold spell brought a few house fires due to heat lamps being used for urban flocks. Chickens are incredibly hardy when fully feathered. Which is another reason to not have babies during winter. If your chickens have a dry, secure place to bed down at night and have been properly fed and hydrated during the day, they DO NOT need heat lamps or lights to keep them warm, and adding a light at night can throw off the egg laying schedule too.

So, to make things go easier during the inclement weather, stock up as much as finances allow on:
Feed - hay, grain, milk replacers, etc.
Bedding material
Livestock medical supplies
Auxiliary species appropriate watering supplies

And hopefully take some time to enjoy the beauty of a winter storm.


Karen said...

All good information:) At what point would you consider a heat lamp for the chickens? Does the water being frozen in the coop in the morning make it cold enough?
We are like you and get the occasional winter storm, but are now back into the grey and damp weather.

Throwback at Trapper Creek said...

Karen, we never have used heat lamps on the chickens except for brooding chicks. During freezing weather, we drain the regular water set-ups and then water in the rubber tubs during the day. A snowball of snow too during the day provides a little water and entertainment for our hens that are in confinement.

We don't get much colder than 5 or 6F though and never for much more than a week or two, so that could have considerable bearing on water supplies and heat too.

Anonymous said...

Wonderful article! and thought provoking.
Today on news was the story of a bank whose computers have been down for the week. A woman was saying, because she couldn't get any money out and that they live from week to week, she couldn't drive her son to school,grocery shop or give her husband lunch for work....
Scary!! having so little in reserve or for an emergency.

Sense of Home said...

Nice article, not only do we need to prepare our homes for winter we need to prepare for any animals we care for as well. We got a break this weekend, but tomorrow the snow, wind, and cold are coming back.


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sheila said...

Temps of 15 to 20 below zero Fahrenheit are common here. Chickens don't need supplemental heat. A dry place out of the wind and they are fine. Combs may suffer from frost bite though. Best to raise breeds without large combs in arctic regions. The other solution is to lightly coat their combs with Vaseline. Works like a charm and even the big old Rhode Island Red rooster liked to have his comb treated with Vaseline last winter.

louisa @ The Really Good Life said...

Thanks for the reassurance that our chickens won't freeze!

In the UK, we had a "once in 20 years" cold winter last year so have been a bit surprised to find that this year the winter is just as cold - and it's started earlier. We've got about 10 inches of snow in the garden today - the first time I've ever seen so much.

I've been visiting our girls much more than normal - to fill up their drinkers with warm water throughout the day, take them some warm pellet "porridge" - and to make sure that they're safe -- I've seen hungry, cold foxes hanging around the garden.

As for the other animals - the dog and cats - we're hugging together to share/steal each others' warmth - I've got two cats and a dog on me right now and it's quite, quite snug!

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