Sunday, January 27, 2013

Winter chores on the farm

Winter is my least favourite time of year to be outside - it's cold and icy and I am a wimp.

I could easily cocoon myself indoors when we lived in the city but all that changes when you live in the country and have animals.  I really can't complain at all because my two-kids-living-at-home are awesome at taking care of the basics when I am busy and have other things that need to get done - like washing dozen after dozen eggs the other day when I got a few days behind!

We have developed some routines that work for us that I want to share because although doing chores in sub-temperature weather is not on my list of fun-things-to-do there are ways to make it easier.

The first thing is having proper clothing.  Warm boots, hats, mittens and a super duper coat are the bare minimum.  Think in layers because even when it's Arctic-cold outside once you start working you will get warm and want to be able to take off a layer or two. Just being in the barn means the wind chill is cut down considerably. When you're are reasonably warm everything else is easier to deal with.

I am going to admit to something that will make us sound like the most lazy farmers you ever met.  We start chores between 11-12 noon in the winter.  Shocking isn't it??  Aren't farmers up with sun? Don't they crawl out of bed in the dark and milk cows??  Yes, THEY do but WE don't.  That's one reason that lazy farmers do not have dairy cows!  

The real reason is simple: Our egg layers are notorious for laying their eggs all over the barn.  We had to check many sites every morning to make sure we got them all.  That got a bit tiring and we ended up throwing out a lot of eggs if we weren't sure how long they had been sitting there.  So now we beat the chickens at their own game!  We don't let them out until late morning in the winter so that most of them lay their eggs where they are supposed to - in the nesting boxes.  At other times of the year the sun is up earlier and so are the chickens.  Did you know that chickens lay more eggs when the days are longer?   If you want them to lay in the winter you need to add automatic lights to the chicken coop to artificially extend daylight hours.  We thought we would try that this year and see how much of a difference it makes.  If you need eggs please let me know because it works really well and we are swamped!

One of the other issues when temperatures get down to minus 10 or so is that the newly laid eggs can freeze solid before you collect them.  This requires a few extra trips to the barn during the day.  Insulating the nesting boxes would probably help too but for the few weeks a year that it is an issue here we haven't bothered.

The ducks, sheep and donkey get let out at around 9 - but that's usually a quick visit to the barn to make sure all is well and open the doors.

Waiting till later in the morning usually has the benefit of it being a little warmer out when you do have to go out for chores.  A few other side benefits are knowing you can sleep in sometimes and we can go to church on Sunday mornings and come back to do chores after church without messing up the routine too much!

Winter chores differ from any other time of the year in a few ways.  Water - the bane of the barnyard has been a pain in the "roompa" this winter.  We have a water line to the barn and it's even heated but this year it's frozen and not working.  That means we are pumping water out of the cistern at the back door of the house to water animals and walking back and forth with multiple pails of water.  I am so thankful for that cistern!!!  It never freezes no matter what the weather - it's a simply ingenious old fashioned solution!  I am also grateful we don't have a barn full of cows because I don't think we could haul enough water to satisfy them.

Keeping the water from freezing in the animals dishes is the next conundrum. We've tried just about everything over the years.  Right now we've settled for heated dog dishes which is not a perfect solution but at minus 25 the water doesn't freeze and that's all that matters for a few weeks.  I've seen several really ingenious ideas.

 backyard chickens  Place a regular chicken waterer on top of the heated brick and voilĂ  - no frozen waterers in the winter!
These are on my to-do list for next year!  I hope they work as well as people say they do because it would make life much easier to not have open water dishes.  Ducks like to make a complete disaster around a water dish.  They are messy critters!  In reality it's not their fault - they need to submerge their heads to clean their eyes and without water they are at risk for infection and disease.  The temperatures we've been having lately make this very challenging - not to mention slippery for the humans!

Some people have asked if we heat the barn in any way in the coldest months.  We don't.  Animals are very hardy and keeping them too warm and then exposing them to dramatic temperature changes is not healthy for them.  Having appropriate sized coops for the amount of birds you have will allow the chickens to keep each other warm.  They get quite cozy on the roosts at night!

I've seen lots of pictures of chickens roaming farms in the dead of winter.  Not ours - ours avoid snow at all costs.  If it snows they just find a quiet-out-of-the-way place in the barn to poop - I mean sit.  Chickens poop - quite a bit actually.  In the warmer weather you don't notice it so much because they are out running around the farm but in the winter there are little poo piles everywhere - when it's REALLY cold they freeze into little rocks.  (Wow - I bet you read this blog just to hear about chicken poo!)  Sigh*  There are worse things in life but cleaning up when everything is frozen is an effort in futility so if you want to see my CLEAN barn please don't come in the winter!  It gets messy - that's life!

We take advantage of every warm spell that comes our way.  As soon as we read that the weather is going to warm up we plan for a big-barn-clean-up. If the temperature rises enough the water pipes defrost so this is the time the feeders and waterers get scrubbed extra clean and the walk ways and pens get a extra tidy up. We move hay down from the hayloft to make things easier in the days to come.  We hit up the feed store and load up on the necessities and pack them into the storage room - which is easier to do when you aren't slipping and sliding and FREEZING.  You never know when the next warm spell is coming so it can't be wasted when it does.  The animals seem to enjoy those days too because we're in the barn longer and they get a little extra love.

The sheep and the donkey are actually quite easy to care for.  We use an old cooler to water them and we just drop in a pond de-icer/stock tank de-icer and their water stays frost free.  With their warm fleece they don't ever seem bothered by the cold.  Even little Hubert who is growing like a bad weed seems happy and content regardless of the temperature.

Overall doing winter chores isn't too bad.  If the weather is really miserable we get things done in record time.  Sometimes we leave the animals penned up when it's icy or blowing knowing they will be safer and more comfortable inside and also knowing we will not have to chase them around at night to get them back where they belong.

The days of hiding out inside during the winter might be gone but they've been replaced by something surprisingly better - an enjoyment of winter I haven't had for a long time.  Maybe I'm not such a wimp after all!


  1. I have alot to look forward to don't I LOL.I can't wait to get our little farm thing going.That is the one big thing I think people don't realize is a farm is gonna smell.You get use to it after awhile too.Your critters are looking good and the lamb is so cute.

    1. Oh yes you do! Honestly our farm only smelled really bad when we were babysitting 15 cows last winter. My DH complained the whole time (city boy!) I didn't complain but I have no sense of smell!!

  2. Great ideas for the water.

  3. Your lamb looks like he is smiling. Should have named it Mona Lisa.

  4. I just wanted to let you know how much I enjoy reading your blog. It helps to know there are others in similar situations. ;-) We started our little farm about a year and a half ago and no matter how much planning we think we've done there is always another lesson involved. LOL Have a wonderful week.

    1. Thanks for commenting Ashleigh! It IS nice to know there are others out there doing the same things (and having to deal with poop! ha!) Tell us more about your farm! What kinds of animals do you have??


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