Sweet Hills Farm – Winter Livestock Care

Isn’t it something, that when we think of the need for water, we think of warm weather, heat and summer.  But, we all need a ready, clean water supply in the winter, too.  Livestock, especially, are vulnerable to becoming chilled if they don’t have ample drinking water when the weather is at its coldest.  And when the temperature hits zero, which is how it has been around here the past week, careful care is critical.

Cows, their pasture is all covered up with snow!

Cows, Cold

Late the other night, I was getting ready for bed.  My husband, TheBoss, was all settled in by the fire, slippers and the TV remote.  I happened to peer our our bedroom window into the dark-coldness, and way, way out there, I could see the cattle huddled around the water trough.

That spells trouble.  When cattle are thirsty, they let you know it.  When they stand, hovered around the water trough in -1* weather, they’re telling you that you have a problem, and that they have no water.

We thought had a good set-up for the water trough… a float, insulated hoses, heat tape, a submersible heater in the trough itself.  It was  working great, and then the temperature dropped below 5*F, and the whole setup froze up.


Frozen Solid

And, of course, I didn’t notice it till 10:47 pm!  My foot is all stitched up, I’m in a walking boot, and not allowed to go outside on the slick snow (oh, too bad!).  So, guess what had to happen; TheBoss had to deal with it; it was most certainly urgent, and had to be dealt with right then.  I sweetly called to him from the bedroom, “Honey, the cows are standing around the water trough.”

“S#$%,” comes from the living room, the sound of the TV turning off, stomping through to the mudroom.  I could hear insulated coveralls, hooded parka being jerked off their hooks and shoved on over p.j.’s.  Boots klunking on the linoleum.  Gloves sliding onto perfectly warm hands.  Fumbling in the pantry for the flashlight.  Back door slamming.

It was dark and foggy, about.  All I could see was the flashlight beam bobbing across the yard.  Sadly, I couldn’t skip out the to record the whole thing with photos.  Then, the light-beam holding steady over the grossly misshapen ice-water-flowed-scuptural-water-trough.  Cows, cold, clustered, watching, thirsty.  Lightbeam jiggling back across the yard, all the way out to the barn.  Light goes on in the barn.

Fresh, clean water. That cord running into the water is a submergible heater. It works great to about 5*

Ahh, I thought, he’s hand filling the water trough out there, and will open the gate for the cows to come in.  I fell into my dreamy sleep.

But, as it happened, the cows wouldn’t come into the corrals.  They weren’t used to coming in, especially at night.  TheBoss had to come back across the yard, fire up the 4-wheeler, drive out to the pasture, and herd them in.  (TheBoss doesn’t walk anywhere a 4-wheeler will do the job).  But, finally, he was able to encourage them into the corrals.  They stayed there all night, content, and drank half a trough of water.


Roxie on the left, and Merrygold, in their cozy blankets.

In the meantime, the horses are blanketed when the temp is predicted to go below 25*.  They’re happy and snug inside their nice barn with their blankets.  They get lots of Equine Senior – a complete, easy-to-digest meal, made of a molasses/corn/oats/alfalfa blend which is full of calories to keep them fat and warm.

The hens stay cozy with a heat lamp at night.  The heat lamp helps take the edge off the chill, but also makes the “daylight” last longer.  Chickens are surprisingly hearty creatures, in some ways, more so than bigger animals.  With a little assistance – shelter, heatlamp, water and a good roost – they’re able to snuggle up to each other, tucking their feet under their warm feathers, and they’re good to go!


Hens snuggle up to each other under the heatlamp


So, with all this, the stock are well cared for in the wintertime, though it takes a lot of diligence and watching from their humans.  More care is required, perhaps than in the summertime, when they can be turned out to pasture, with simply some shade a filled water trough.

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