When summertime hits, most of us are outside, tending to our gardens, collecting an abundance of fresh food, eggs and even milk. There’s no piles of snow to trudge through, and no worry of animals freezing overnight. So, what does homesteading in the winter look like? Here’s some tips on animal care and more to carry you through the snowy, blustery days!
On the homestead, basic animal care does not change from season to season. Fresh food, water, and shelter from the harsh elements are always required. For many areas, your animal care may only require a few different steps in the winter.
Caring For Ducks
Give them some extra straw or dry leaves in their coop and run area. This will help keep them off the cold ground since they don’t roost like chickens. We lay a bale of straw each time, and do this about 2-3 times throughout the winter. The old straw gets collected and placed in our compost pile, then new straw is laid throughout the coop.
The ducks will settle into the straw, and build nests to lay their eggs. This makes it much easier to find their eggs instead of the daily hunt, too. If you collected dry leaves in the fall, they will make great bedding in the duck coop. They will compost down easily and give the ducks some protection from the cold ground.
Caring For Chickens
Chickens need the same thing in the winter as during the summer. You can use heated waterers to keep their drinking water from freezing and make sure to provide plenty of food. When there is snow and ice on the ground, chickens can’t forage for bugs, worms and grass. They will expend a lot of energy in keeping warm so you may want to make sure they have plenty of:
- oyster shells
Chickens also need more “entertainment” in the winter to keep from bullying others. Adding in a flock block or chicken swing will help alleviate boredom. Boredom in chickens can lead to pecking each other and bullying.
Some will turn on a light in the coop during the shorter daylight hours of the winter months. While this is controversial among many chicken keepers, the decision is up to you. Read more about that here.
Caring For Rabbits
One of the first questions you may be thinking is “How can I keep my rabbit warm in winter?”
Wild rabbits live outside all year long, and simply dig a burrow to crawl into to keep warm or cool. Pet rabbits can live outside, but need to be protected from the elements. Provide a hutch, a covered cage, or a barn for them to stay warm. Pet rabbits need to be draft free all the time, but in the winter, it’s crucial.
Continual cold drafts can make an entire herd sick quick. If your rabbits are in a closed barn, make sure they can still get fresh air. Keep the door closed up to 90% of the time to keep out cold drafts, but still allow air movement.
Caring For Your Barn Cats
Whether you have your own barn cats, or you have a heart for those strays that adopt you, taking care of the cats in the winter isn’t hard. The most important thing is to give them a warm place to sleep, especially if you don’t have a barn or coop. Not everyone has a large chicken coop or a barn on their homestead for a cat to sleep in.
If you have an outdoor cat in this situation, you’ll need to provide a warm place for them to sleep. We made a “home” for our outdoor cats on our front porch. It is made out of an old 35 gallon Rubbermaid container. You can do this too:
- Cut a hole in the side for the cat to get in and out
- Add carboard to the inside, taping securely to provide extra protection.
- Secure the lid on tight.
- When possible, add straw bales around the outside of the container, to provide extra protection against cold wind.
What other animals do you have on the homestead? What care do you provide that is different in the winter?
What about the rest of the homestead in the winter? How does homesteading in the winter look different when it comes to your car, or your garden? Check out the posts below:
Heather’s homesteading journey started in 2006, with baby steps: first, she got a few raised beds, some chickens, and rabbits. Over the years, she amassed a wealth of homesteading knowledge, knowledge that you can find in the articles of this blog.