In October, I closed the last journal entry by wondering how we—and the animals—would do once winter set in. Our summer and autumn experiences were great, but once there was snow on the ground, how were we all going to adapt our routines?
I’m pleased to report that the state of the flock is excellent! Winter has certainly posed its fair share of challenges, but so far we are weathering them. Below are a few observations on our experiences:
We have had snow on the ground since about the middle of November. As most visitors to this site know, we love snow; however, snow poses a number of challenges for us. We must keep the paddock gate area clear so we can enter and exit, and a path open from the paddock gate to the hay cabin, where we also store the grains we feed the animals.
Most of these things we anticipated before the snow fell. What we didn’t know was whether the llamas would beat their own path from the barn to their community loo, or whether the animals would have any difficulty getting to the water bucket around the back of the barn. What we found was that in heavier snow storms both the sheep and the llamas preferred to stay in the barn. Now, some readers might think that’s a “duh” moment, but we also noticed that the llamas like to be outside while it is snowing … on them. The llamas would beat a path to the potty site, but in a significant snow storm we found it useful to shovel a short path for them so they wouldn’t go in the barn.
Speaking of such things, the sheep—unlike the llamas—aren’t as courteous, and go wherever they happen to be. This meant that in order to keep the barn clean we need to be able to get the wheelbarrow to the barn and then to some other destination. While it was warmer, we started our first manure … err… compost pile in a spot we believed convenient for us and a safe distance from the creek. Maneuvering a wheelbarrow full of pre-compost through the snow created new challenges, but we identified a spot just across from the hay cabin (where we store the wheelbarrow under the lean-to shed) on the other side of the driveway, which should easily get us through the winter.
Another thing we learned is that the sheep will take hay from the feeder in the barn, but that they prefer to “graze” outside. We also learned that the added benefit to this is that if we feed them outside they don’t soil the barn as much. We mind the weather, but if it is sunny we always put at least some of the hay outside the barn.
Easy enough, right? Well, we learned two new things and realized that we couldn’t just throw the hay in the front of the barn every time. For one, see above where I speak of the sheep and their lack of civility. But we also had to be cognizant of where the snow on the roof would shed. Snow accumulates on the metal roof, and can come down without notice, much like an avalanche. The snow shed travels further than one might think, and we watched from the house as snow fell from the back roof and nearly trapped Caramel, who was using a path we had cleared. We couldn’t tell if she was hurt or not, but as I started toward the barn Sarah saw the lamb push her way out of the snow and jump to a clearing. The sheep was fine, and now we know where we can and can’t dig paths or put hay.
Even if it isn’t snowing, the low temperatures here pose challenges for the humans and animals. After a brief Christmas thaw, we have had a very cold January. Over the last few weeks we have seen overnight temperatures dip to -30°F (-34°C) and about zero (-17C) during the day. When it gets that cold the animals—and especially ruminants—need a little help to keep their energy up. On the advice of Marian White, we gave the sheep a mixture of grain and whole or crushed corn kernels. For us, the cold temperatures mean we have to bundle up to do our daily barn chores, and it takes some effort to work chains and latches when one is wearing gloves.
One of the things were are glad we learned of before winter set in is the heated water bucket. This thing is awesome. The water bucket we have has a thermostat built in and keeps the animal’s water from freezing. When we built the barn, we had an insulated wooden box built around the water pressure tank that helps brings our water from the well we dug this summer. The box has thick blueboard foam walls on the inside and a 100-watt light ball attached to a thermostat to help keep the space warm. We thought that the insulated box coupled with the heated bucket would work for us. When the pipe that brings the water from the well head across the drive way to the barn was installed it was buried a good distance. However, the day before we were to leave for South Carolina for the holidays the water didn’t flow when we turned the faucet on. Luckily there was plenty of clean snow for our farm sitter to throw in the heated bucket, but it was equally fortunate that the temperatures reached the high 40s (~8C) while we were gone. Now we let the water trickle at all times to keep it from freezing up on us again (see video at right or on Flickr), which makes for some interesting ice sculptures.
Otherwise, most everything is good. We still have a good supply of hay, and all the animals are healthy and growing lovely winter sweaters, which we plan to shear off in March.