Are you interested in HOMESTEADING LIFESTYLE?  Then you might find one of these articles handy:

Heating with Wood by Doug Smith

Easy as Pie: The Myth of Simple Living by Sheri Dixon

Time Traveling with the WPA: Missouri by Barbara Bamberger Scott

Weather Lore and Superstitions by Sherrie Taylor

Fishing Without Chena by Clark Johnson

Non-Electric Dreamin’ by Barbara Bamberger Scott

I’m From the Universe, and I’m Here to Help by Sheri Dixon

What is Your Homestead $ Number? by Tony Colella


Preparing the Homestead for Winter

Part Three: The Animals


by Doug Smith

Read Part One: The Buildings

Read Part Two: The Equipment



There’s a passage in the good book which states, “To whomever much is given, of him will much be required” – Luke 12:48.

Perhaps never has that been more true than for the homesteader who has livestock in the winter.

Like almost everyone else who goes into rural living or homesteading as a first-generation lifestyle, my wife and I had a steep learning-curve the first winter after we purchased our flock of chickens some dozen years ago.  After buying a few mature birds, and raising a couple dozen more from chicks in the spring, we thought we had taking care of yard birds all figured out… that is, until winter arrived.

That first year, we learned important things like how to keep plenty of unfrozen water, how to get the coop buttoned up against the bitter winter wind, and that we could encourage more egg production by supplementing the shorter days with some artificial lighting.

While birds may be more fragile than goats, pigs, or cattle, the fact is that all livestock requires some extra attention during the harsh winter months.  If you have a hive of bees, or hutch of meat rabbits, or even a dog or some barn cats, they, too, need some extra attention.  In nearly all instances, you must focus on providing ample useable water, shelter, and, nutrition, as well as keeping an eye on health.  Failure in any of those categories and egg, milk, or meat production can suffer, or, in the worst case scenario, you can lose animals altogether.

I’m no expert, but I do have decades of experience helping raise everything from bees to cattle to hunting dogs. Here are some things to consider when the mercury drops in the thermometer:


Water is truly the nectar of life.  The bodies of animals, just like humans, is made up primarily of water.  It’s required to keep blood flowing, muscles supple and strong, eyes focused, and the brain’s and body’s systems functioning properly.  And it takes a lot of it to keep going.  Multiple sources say requirements can be as much as three gallons per day for sheep and 12-14 gallons for cattle.  Pigs require 3 to 5 gallons for a mature adult.  For birds, it’s much less since they get as much as half of their required moisture intake from feed, but it’s still very important to provide plenty of supplemental unfrozen water.

Many novices will tend to think their animals can get plenty of water when there’s snow on the ground—after all, moisture is everywhere, right?—but, it's not useable moisture.  Eating snow or licking ice to get water solves one problem but creates another.  Snow and ice consumption will rapidly lower the body temperature of any creature and, therefore, should be discouraged.

You'll need to provide all your animals with drinking water that is at least 37 degrees or warmer.  You can do this in any of several ways.  The first, and most time and energy consuming, is to freshen water bowls, tubs, and/or troughs several times a day when the temperature drops below freezing.  If you’re wanting the exercise and don’t mind the time it takes, or have no means of getting power to your coop or pens, this is, by far, the most cost-effective.  But it’ll require a few trips a day to make it work on bitterly cold days.

If you have the luxury of electricity to your livestock areas then you’re way ahead in the game.

Back when we switched our focus from raising hunting beagles to goats and chickens, the best things available were small electric coils you could buy and place in water pans or troughs.  While they worked well, there was always the fear of the mechanism falling too far into the water and shorting out, or worse, causing injury from electrical shock.  The ones we used had a little metal tab built in that hung on the edge of the pan or trough to keep the wire connections to the heating coil above the water line.  But you had to wire or zip-tie the heater in place against some fencing or a post to keep the animals from bumping it and dropping it into the drink.

Nowadays, multiple manufacturers offer cost-efficient and much safer alternatives in heated waterers or bowls.  The power unit is built into the container’s base and warms the water to above freezing through the surface of the container instead of the hot coil being directly in contact with the water.  Simply replace the old water system with a new heated system and plug it in, top it off with water and keep it filled and you’re good to go.  In the summertime, you can use the same container and just unplug it, but I prefer to switch back to a metal or rubber tub and take that opportunity to give the winter container a thorough cleaning and sterilizing before storing it away in the barn or shed until the next winter.

Regardless of the method you employ, fresh, unfrozen drinking water is an absolute must for all your animals.  A shortage can lead to reduced egg production, stress (which can taint the quality and flavor of meat), and cause more immediate concerns such as impaction and colic from food intake without proper water amounts.


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