Baby, it's cold outside! Old Man Winter sure has made his presence known in the U.S. this year. I can't remember the last time we've had such extremely cold temperatures and these subzero windchills. It makes me so thankful for my warm house! And of course, a cup of hot chocolate helps, too!
As the thermometer dips lower and lower — and stays there for several days in a row — my family and I concentrate on keeping our animals warm and healthy throughout the cold spell.
Keeping Them Warm
Keep them sheltered. A well-ventilated, draft-free shelter is one of the most important things you can provide for your animals, year-round. It doesn't even need to be heated — your animals will appreciate any shelter that is out of the wind, snow, sleet, or other adverse weather conditions. A three-sided shed turned away from the wind and precipitation will typically suffice, but if you have a barn, consider moving all of the critters in there for a few days, especially if a winter storm is on its way.
Keep it deep. If you aren't already familiar with this, let me introduce the “deep bedding” or “deep litter” method of housing your animals through the winter. Instead of cleaning out the stalls or coop regularly once you bring the animals inside, simply keep adding fresh bedding on top of the soiled stuff. The hay and waste begin composting, which generates a fair amount of heat, and provides extra warmth for your herd. Check your shelter every few days to see if it is time to spread out more straw. If you smell ammonia when you crouch down, your animals do too and it's bothering them. Spread more bedding! If, when you crouch down, the old bedding is damp, it's also time for a new layer. Some people choose to sprinkle lime or food-grade diatomaceous earth on the soiled bedding before adding the new layer on top.
Keep them well-fed. When it comes to needing a few extra calories to keep warm when it's cold out, animals are no different than humans. Add some extra fat to their feed by way of flax seeds, black oil sunflower seed, or olive oil, but be sure to change amounts gradually if you ever vary the routine. Also, keep those hay racks filled! The digestive system of ruminants help them keep warm, especially when they are busy digesting lots of fibrous material (such as hay). Their four-chambered stomachs act as little internal heaters as they work to ferment the contents.
Keep the water warm. Consider purchasing some heated water buckets for the barn. Along with making one of these DIY heated bases for our chicken waterer, heated water buckets proves to be one of the best decisions we've made when it comes to winter preparedness, happy animals, and making our lives a bit easier! We have two of these heated flat-backed 5-gallon pails and one of these heated dog bowls. Many animals tend to drink more water if it's slightly warm, so the more water they drink, the more food they eat, and the warmer they'll be. The only drawback to these heated buckets is that they can be a pain to clean out. However, if you put a regular 5-gallon bucket inside the big heated pail, and a smaller 2-gallon bucket inside the heated dog bowl, the heater still keeps the water nice and warm. This makes cleaning the buckets and changing the water so much easier! If you're using a large stock tank, floating heaters work quite well. For those of you who can't get electricity out in your barn, pack straw around the water buckets to insulate them, and add molasses to the water itself. This can lower the freezing point of the water by 10 degrees.
An Herbal Boost
I also like to add an herbal infusion to my goats' water buckets. I include herbs that support circulation, herbs that strengthen the immune system, and herbs that aid the respiratory systems. Kristie Miller of Land of Havilah Farm and Land of Havilah Herbals, owner of the Totally Natural Goats Facebook group, and Certified Nutritional Herbologist, helped me tweak the ratios in this formula — thank you, Kristie! Since implementing this, there has been a huge improvement in the health of my goats, especially when it comes to relieving coughs and runny noses. It's as easy as 1, 2, 3!
Winter Boost Herbal Formula
Parts are measured by weight, not volume. Powdered herbs are best.
- 2 parts mullien (respiratory)
- 1 part marshmallow root (respiratory)
- 1 part comfrey (respiratory)
- 1 part thyme (respiratory)
- 1 part rose hips (immune system)
- 1 part echinacea* or astragalus (immune system)
- 1 part cayenne, at least 40,000 HU (circulation)
- 1 part ginger (circulation)
- 1 part Lobelia inflata (carrier herb)
*Use echinacea for a total of 6 days in a row, but no longer. The body becomes accustomed to the herb after that time and it is no longer effective. For continuous long-term dosage, use astragalus in place of echinacea.
Weigh and combine all ingredients. Label and store in an airtight container or glass jar in a cool, dry, and dark place.
To use, measure out the correct dose for each animal in the pen, as given in the reference photo below. (For example, I have seven doses for seven animals all in the same pen, each animal weighing from 75 pounds to 150 pounds. I measure out seven teaspoons of the herbal mix for the water bucket in that pen.) Add 1/4 cup to 1/2 cup blackstrap molasses (more if you're using a large stock tank) to the mixture of herbs.
Bring water to a slight boil and pour over herbs and molasses. Stir, cover, and allow to steep for 30 minutes. You can add crushed garlic to the mixture after it has steeped and cooled. Strain and add to water buckets. This is best given to the animals fresh, but can be made ahead of time and stored in the refrigerator for 2 to 3 days. Since I give my animals garlic regularly, I don't add it to the mix. Because my animals are used to being treated herbally for several different things, they have no problems slurping this stuff right up, but if yours are new to herbs, keep an eye on them to make sure they are drinking the water after you add the infusion.
This may seem surprising, but recently when I came down with a nasty cold, I treated it with essential oils, lots of rest, and… this herbal mix! It's good for humans, too! 🙂 Although — it is very spicy, but adding ample honey makes it palatable.
(The dosages on this chart are for dosing powdered herbs and herbal formulas, unless the package states otherwise. Click here to print and save for future reference.)
What are your best tips for keeping your livestock warm and healthy during winter?
Disclaimer: I'm not a doctor or veterinarian. All information is intended for your general knowledge only and is not a substitute for medical advice or treatment for specific medical conditions. You are responsible for your own health and for the use of any remedies, treatments, or medications you use at home.
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