Ready for snow to fly…
I love the fall… the crisp feel to the air in the mornings, on my runs, the smell of fallen leaves and wood smoke from a fireplace and baking apple caramel blondies are a few of may favorite things. I do become a little apprehensive at this time as now the pressure is on to get my animals ready before that first snow.
I have a small flock of chickens, 5 pet Nigerian Dwarf goats and 2 pet pigs. They are all easy keepers and I love to take a cup of coffee or a cold beer and sit outside while my girls (the hens) free range. They can’t be loose unless I am out as we have a fox den very close by and LOTS of hawks and owls. I want to share with you what winter prep for my animals looks like as it may help you prevent some problems with your own flocks and herds.
One of my first projects is to clean out my barn and pack it with 15-20 bales of hay which will get me through a few months. If I know snow is coming, I may top this off to be sure I am set for a bit. I clean out the goats’ pen as I don’t clean it out during the winter as it insulates and provides some heat to leave deeper bedding. I do the same with the chickens, except I do try to turn the bedding periodically to keep it dried out. For both I use pine shavings. I don’t like straw as I feel it holds the moisture too much and moisture will lead to several health issues.
This is usually the time I put a light on a timer in my chicken coop to encourage my girls to lay. I do give them a month with no lights as they molt (lose feathers) to allow their bodies to recover before I set the light. Hens need 12-16 hours of light to lay so I set my light timer (I use one that screws into the bulb socket that can be set for 1,3 or 5 hours) to extend the shrinking natural daylight hours. I did this 2 weeks ago and am patiently waiting for the girls to start again, which should be soon. I really hate buying eggs! Hens also need plenty of fresh water and feed to lay so be sure both are available. I also wrap my run on 2 sides with tarps so that 3 sides are covered (one by my coop). This gives them plenty of ventilation but protects the run from most snow and wind.
I have also pulled out my heated waterers to be sure they work before needed. The goats and pigs share a heated bucket that is in the barn and for the chickens, I prefer one that goes under the waterer.
This is also the time of year where I increase feed to my animals. I have a half acre fenced pasture where my goats and pigs are so all summer, they have grass and brush to eat. The goats clean the fence line that borders my neighbors horse pasture and I really should take them over to clean the other side! As the pasture dies back, I start feeding hay first just in the AM then as part of their pm feeding as well. During the summer, my goats and pigs get grain in the AM and this time of year, I gradually add back in a PM feeding as well as their caloric needs increase with the cold weather. Grain should be tailored to your animals’ specific needs such as I almost never feed grain to wethers (castrated males) and does (females) who are bred have specific needs.
Having all this prepped and a barn full of hay makes my heart happy and not much is better for the brain and soul than a day spent in the barn… Happy fall!