Difficulties of Small Animal Farming in the Winter
Old MacDonald Had a Farm and It Wasn't Very Big
I have always had a weak spot for animals. I surrounded myself with them when I was a kid. At one time I had four generations of cats I took great pride in raising. I was just a kid, I didn't know I was turning into a crazy cat lady at the age of 7. Dogs were okay, but I preferred the indifferent personalities of cats. It's way more of an accomplishment when a feline cuddles up to you.
One day I decided I wanted to be a farmer. With 100 acre farms of cattle and 5000 head of turkey barns surrounding me, I had 5 acres to work with. What the hell can I farm, I thought?
Well, Grannie Jessie always had chickens, and I had a love/hate relationship with them. My mother fostered the idea in me that Grannie's chickens were evil. Mom had gotten cornered one time as a child by a spurring rooster, and like Renee Zellweger says in the movie Cold Mountain, I can not abide a spurring rooster.
So I decided to get some chickens anyway. I started with a pen of 12 leghorn hens, and their rooster. I immediately named him FogHorn, get it? He is a gentle soul and will be about seven years old this spring. He has never "spurred" or acted mean. He is a lover, not a fighter. He's one horny rooster. The hens are gone and replaced with Rhode Island Reds and a few that I incubated one year before the leghorns went on. One is named after my daughter Autumn so she will never be sold, and certainly never butchered.
What to add next?
The next variety of animal that I desperately wanted was rabbits, specifically, I wanted to see bunnies birthed. I always wanted a bunny when I was little, but the closest thing I ever got was a guinea pig named Allison. 5 years ago, I purchased my first rabbits. I still have one original rabbit, her name is Daisy. She is a full breed lion head. Over the years I've bred so many generations of the cutest little puff ball lion head bunnies, I could never remember how many. I sell these every spring at a farm and home store in the area for Easter. Currently, I have five bred does and one beautiful mini lop buck.
Challenges of Raising Rabbits in the Winter
Cold is not as much of a problem for rabbits as other animals. They like it cold and aren't as prone to frostbite due to their fur. I have seen people house their rabbits outside in ice storms, although I don't advise this practice.
Keep them in a barn. The biggest challenge of winter rabbitry for me is birthing. You've got to get those moms into brooder boxes and split up so they don't eat each other's babies. So working out in the cold and setting up heat lamps is not fun.
Chicken Challenges in Winter
Mostly the challenge is to keep going down there and taking care of them when a blizzard is on. If you don't have a deicer or warming plates for the water, you can insert a plastic bottle with lid, put a little water and salt in it. Float it in their water bowls. It will help keep the ice broken up. Frostbite is a concern on their combs. Some people use Vaseline for that.
As If those weren't enough
The chickens and the rabbits are fun, but I still have four acres that grow up with weeds way too fast, and I hate to brush hog. So my husband Jay and daughter Autumn built a new fence, and off to the animal auction we went and bought some goats. We are on our third generation of Pygmies and one Alpine mix. We currently have five goats. Three are bred and will be birthing soon. We added a pot belly pig last year just because nobody else wanted her at the sale, and she loves to run with the chickens. The goats are the biggest challenge of winter because they love to birth on the very coldest yuckiest weather of the winter.
Animal Vaccines and Wormers
Vaccines and Wormers
CDT, Covexin 8, Diatomaceous Earth
Twice a year, newborns one month after birth then again two months later. Adults spring and fall.
We use Diatomaceous Earth added to the feed.
Every day in small amounts, totally safe natural product.
Diatomaceous Earth, Earmite liquid
As needed, again can be added to the feed, or sprinkled on the animals themselves.
Since writing this article, we have had a solid week of birthing goats on our farm. Our nannies produced three sets of twins in one week. Our proud billy is strutting tall! Winter birthing just sucks. It's a lot of work out in freezing temperatures. There is water to deice, feed to carry, hay to move around. In our case, one baby goat was rejected by its mother. She produced an extraordinary amount of milk, but would only nurse one twin. This was our first time with a bottle kid. It has been a lot of fun. More about that will be written in another article.
Finally, I have to say that small farming is rewarding enough to accept the sometimes brutal challenges of winter. This year has been one of the coldest winters that our farm has had since I began this venture. I have been playing amateur farmer for five years now and love every day of it. We will finally be seeing some profits this year from the goats. I really appreciate the way that my friends and family love my animals too. They often take care of my animals if I go out of town. So special thanks go out to Phil and Barb, Autumn, Dylan, and my neighbors Jack and Chanda for making it possible for me to travel and still raise our small herd.
© 2018 Vicki Wood