We have been raising animals on our farm for over 10 years—sheep, dogs, cats, chickens, turkeys, guinea pigs, ponies, donkeys, and a pig.
After an October storm with -20°C and a foot of snow, November began with +16°C and sunny skies. Besides giving me time to finish the eaves trough on our house, we used the nice weather to get our farm pets settled in for the snowy weather, which is guaranteed to come in Alberta.
Thankfully, the chickens and turkey have a nicely insulated house. The 8x12 building with a 6-inch insulation wall houses the 11 hens, two roosters, and a turkey.
One heat lamp will keep it warm most of the winter, but we have a second ready for the really cold snaps. And when it's -40°C with the wind howling over the fields, even our old farmhouse gets cold! Our chicken coop has two vents right near the ceiling, one on each end of the house. These vents create a great draft to keep the air fresh. If we plug them, the house gets nice and warm, but with closed vents, we need to monitor the ammonia buildup closely.
Some of the eggs do freeze on very cold days, but I feel a nature-frozen egg laid on the farm is still far better quality than most you can pick up off the grocery shelf.
We are also thankful to have a heated chicken waterer. They are rather expensive and finicky to fill, but are a real stress and labor saver as you don't have to fight with ice.
Our Sheep Flock
In the wild, bighorn sheep congregate together on a sheltered mountain slope where they will spend the winter. We bring our ewes to the pasture closest to the house (they can even watch us through our bathroom window). This is also our most sheltered pasture with a copse of poplar trees and a long row of pines. We also have two portable shelters for extra protection from the elements, but the sheep generally bed down under the trees.
This pasture rests all year, so there is an abundance of stockpiled grass for the sheep to eat. The ewes will forage until the snow gets too deep, about one foot is all their little legs can handle, before they will be interested in hay. Our corral is connected to the winter pasture and two sides of the corral also function as a hay feeder. The hay bales are kept on the outside of the corral and we pile the hay against the sides of the corral where the ewes can put their heads through and eat. This system is fairly efficient and there is very little hay wasted.
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The Rams and Donkeys
We don't keep the rams and donkeys on pasture during the winter, but they still have a large space for the four of them. But let's face it...men are lazy.
We have tried them on pasture in the past, and all they did was walk from the house to the water to the hay. They had deep tracks packed in the snow and they never went anywhere else. Sometimes they would feel ambitious and have two different paths to the hay, but on the whole, they just stood around and waited for Christmas time (aka breeding) to come.
The ponies are put on a pasture that is rested all year. Ponies are good diggers, and there is lots of grass for them to find. Their pasture is about 1/3 of an acre with a shelter, a small hay feeder (they get fat if they have free access to feed), and water.
This year, we were able to put a heater in the water trough which will save us many frustrating hours hauling a bucket every day through the snow. Unfortunately, ponies are often mischievous. One of our ponies loves pulling the water heater out of the trough, so we built a small frame to keep her from doing this.
Some years, winter catches us unprepared, and we find ourselves scrambling to keep ahead of the ice and the snow. A decade of trial and error has taught us what works (and what doesn't) for our setup and what suits our individual animal's needs.
The most important factor for us to have a successful winter is having our pastures planned for each season, and then getting the animals in before the snow flies!
This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. It is not meant to substitute for diagnosis, prognosis, treatment, prescription, or formal and individualized advice from a veterinary medical professional. Animals exhibiting signs and symptoms of distress should be seen by a veterinarian immediately.
© 2021 Bellwether Farming