When you look after animals on a smallholding you are very much aware of the weather as this affects what you do and even how the animals react. Since Christmas I think we have had every type of winter weather possible including a smattering of snow, heavy rain, strong winds, calm days, an afternoon warm enough to sit outside with a coat on and frost. If I had to chose one of these I would of course love a winter of mild, calm weather but as, in reality, that is not going to happen, I would have to chose frost. In frosty weather the mud in the pig pen and all field gateways disappears overnight and you wake up to everything clothed in a silver mantle.
HOWEVER ... isn't there always a "however"? ... frosty weather is not without many potential problems when you live on a smallholding and look after animals:
Bedding and FoodIn cold weather animals need a lot more bedding and food to keep warm. The piglets love nothing better than burying deep in their bedding on a cold, frosty night and come the morning they all emerge demanding extra rations. This year we've bought a supply of sugarbeet in from a local farmer - a tonne of it in fact so hopefully that will keep them full! The pigs and Maddie, the goat, love it but the sheep thought I was trying to poison them! They prefer their hay. Maddie loves nothing more than a chou lapin as a tasty snack (a type of kale) but in frost these would give her belly ache and anyway they are frozen solid in the ground. However she will at least more hay when it's cold, where-as in mild weather she tends to turn her nose up at this.
|Sheep enjoying their hay|
|It must be cold - Maddie is eating her hay!|
WaterWater becomes an issue as first the water butts all freeze and as the temperature falls further so does the outside tap. Then we have to bring water out from the house which isn't too as we have a downstairs bathroom, but it is a pain. Also if you have not seen the frost forecast and leave your watering cans full water ready for the next day then you have a problem. The water is frozen in the cans and you have no receptacle in which to transport water. In really cold weather the wet food we make up for the pigs will freeze in the feed room and only a kettle full of boiling water will render it edible for the pigs ... so we have to bring the pig feed buckets in and store it in the bath overnight! Good job we have an upstairs shower room too.
Gates and SoilIf frost follows wet weather you can find yourself in the situation of all metal gate bolts being frozen solid in the morning. And even after getting these defrosted you may find that gates which only just skim the soil surface in wet weather will be stuck in frosty weather. Remember how in school you learnt about water expanding as it freezes (or how the wine escaped out of the bottle top when you left it too long in the freezer to cool and forgot about it?), well the water in the soil expands as it freezes so the ground level rises and gates can be difficult to open. Further more any rocks or logs used to wedge gates open will be frozen solid in to the soil and I can assure you a kick with a wellied boot does not always shift them and really hurts! At least I am not wandering around barefoot like the chickens (who find suddenly there are no early worms to eat) or the ducks who find standing on on leg the best means to keep one foot warm at any one time.
|No early worms on a frosty morning|
|Keeping one foot warm|
Despite all of these points though I still prefer frost over wind, rain or snow. Wind makes the animals skittish and I spend ages searching for lost food bowls etc., rain makes everywhere muddy and doing rounds is just miserable and snow is simply hard work (although in it's defence the countryside does look wonderful).
|Winter at Eco-Gites of Lenault|
Do you look after animals and find you or they have a favourite type of winter weather? Maybe your dog doesn't like the frost or you have a cat who adores playing in the snow. Please do let us know in a comment.