Why do I feel qualified to write about this topic?
Well, because of this:
Oh yeah, and this:
Living in Wyoming for the last 12 years has given me what feels like a PhD in “Homesteading in a Location with Insanely Crazy Winters”.
The coursework includes:
- How to chop ice when you’re 8 months pregnant
- How to climb through thigh-high snow drifts while carrying a handful of eggs
- What to do with cow pies that are completely frozen to the ground (I got an F on this one….)
- How NOT to let the hydrants freeze solid so you have to carry buckets of water from the house
Good times, eh?
Now, I’m not complaining (well, just a little bit, maybe…), as I’m admittedly one of those crazy people who chooses to live in windy ol’ Wyoming, but learning to keep animals thriving during the dead of winter takes some special considerations. Let’s chat about those today.
Managing Homestead Livestock in the Winter
We don’t do a lot of extra fancy feeds during the winter, but we do make sure our animals have plenty of hay available at all times.
The process of digesting roughage helps keep horses and cattle warm, so it’s important they have plenty of roughage (hay) available to munch on throughout the day.
While our cattle will pick at the pasture grass a bit during the winter, we don’t have enough land to support them all winter long, so we feed large round bales of grass hay during the winter.
Back in the day, we fed small square bales. However, getting a tractor has allowed us to feed large bales instead, which saves us a lot of work. Depending on how many animals we have at any given time, we have to put out a new bale about every 5-6 days. The main downside of feeding large bales is the amount of waste that is produced as the animals tromp on the hay, but it just comes with the territory (and goes in the compost pile).
When I lock up Oakley the milk cow at night (I’m milking her once per day right now), I usually give her extra hay (or even some alfalfa hay) and sometimes grain since she needs more calories than our fat and sassy beef cattle.
Watering in the winter when it’s consistently below zero = not my idea of a good time. Although animals might not drink as much water as they do during the summer, they will drink more than you think, and it’s important they have consistent access to it. (Especially the milk cow!)
I would greatly encourage you to invest in the tools you need to prevent yourself from having to haul water from the house. Because:
a) Ain’t nobody got time to do that multiple times per day, all winter long. Especially if you have larger animals who need many gallons at once.
b) If you have to haul buckets, it’s easy to skimp on the water you’re providing, and the animals might not be getting as much as they need.
We use a tank heater in our big stock tank. Yes, it uses electricity, but when the temps are below zero for weeks at a time, it’s near impossible to keep the tank from eventually freezing solid, even when you are chopping ice 2x/day.
We use a heated dog bowl for our chickens. It needs to be refilled at least once per day, but it ensures they have access to water 24/7.
If you absolutely can’t have electric water heaters, then invest in a good ax. When it’s really cold, you’ll want to chop at least twice per day to ensure you stay on top of things. Depending on how thick the ice is, you might need to remove the big chunks so there is room for the fresh water.
Sometimes when I post pictures of our winter homesteading efforts, someone will chastise me for not making sure all of our cattle have a barn to stand in.
This always makes me giggle a bit, especially when I envision building barns for the thousands and thousands of cattle that call the Wyoming prairie home.
That’s just not a possibility folks.
However, the good news is that horses, cattle, goats, sheep, you name it, don’t have to have a barn to survive during the winter. They have the most amazing coats of hair designed to keep them warm and cozy in freezing temps.
We do have a barn with room for *most* of our critters, so sometimes I’ll open it up during the worst storms. It just makes me feel better when the wind is whipping snow around outside, but it’s not a requirement.
Now it’s a little different when it comes to chickens. They do need some kind of shelter and a place to roost, but it may not need to be heated. Here’s my post and opinions on the topic of heat lamps for chickens.
What IS a requirement when it comes to shelter?
Lots of hay to eat, and if you live in a very windy place, you’ll want some sort of windbreak.
Cold temperatures are tolerable for critters (even very cold temps) as long as they have some way to get out of the wind. Windbreaks can be natural (like trees or the lay of the land) or man-made (like steel panels or wooden fences). Just make sure they have some way to escape the raging winds.
We use these steel panels in our lower pasture and you will ALWAYS find the horses or cattle standing next to them during the worst storms. The wind here always comes from either the north or west, so we positioned these accordingly.
We built wooden windbreaks into our main winter corral (see the above photo with the cows and feeder). We keep our cattle in this pen during a majority of the winter (to allow our pastures to rest) and the wooden panels provide ample shelter.
Other Tips I’ve Learned
- Don’t forget to keep your salt and mineral feeders full during winter. For some reason, it’s always easier for me to forget to check them during the winter months, but the animals still need the salt and nutrients.
- If you’re using hoses to water, drain them every. single. time. Otherwise you’ll end up with a pile of dripping, thawing hose in your mudroom and it makes a mess. Ask me how I know.
- Clean the barn as much as you can when temperatures are above freezing. Because when the cold snaps come, having mountains of poop you can’t scoop will drive you slightly batty. Ahem.
- Invest in the right clothes. Because you’ll do a better job of completing chores when you can feel your fingers and legs. This post has the scoop on my favorite winter gear items.