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
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
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
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
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
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
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.
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
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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