Yesterday I wrote about spring fever and I think the weatherman heard my cry and is a very vindictive person. It is so cold out today, I went out for maybe 20-30 mins to feed the animals this morning and my hands just about froze solid! I’m not kidding I could barely move them when I got in! It’s -17 degrees Celsius with the wind chill today, and I think all that wind chill is in our backyard! Not much snow, but lots of cold and wind!
With this cold today it made me think of our animals. It is amazing to me how quickly the instinct to protect your livestock kicks in when starting a farm. So many people think that people who raise animals for food don’t care about their animals, but it is quite the contrary. I want my animals to be safe and comfortable for the time they are with us, I worry about them, and feel 100% responsible for their health and safety.
We have done what we can to securely house them, and continue to make additions to their enclosures… its not easy keeping 2 pigs, 6 chickens and 3 rabbits warm in this cold without a barn, but we have added boards to the bottom of their enclosures (normally hardware cloth), covered them with moving blankets (despite it looking very drab), use a deep bedding method for our chickens, and covered the chicken run with a combination of some re-purposed steel roofing and a tarp… basically anything I can find that will help them stay warm is added to their enclosures!
Choosing breeds that are cold hardy, and allowing them to naturally acclimate to their climate is important, we don’t use heat lamps or heating of any kind because we don’t want to hinder the animals natural defenses against the cold. Although they are as sweet as pie I have noticed our golden comet hens who used to be in an insulated coop are sadly showing signs of the cold on their combs and waddles 😦 They will be o.k. but I feel bad!
It really takes time to learn the ins and outs of taking care of farm animals on your land! Everyone has different methods/abilities and space available. We have never kept animals through the winter up until now, so it is a learning curve for us! Generally we have kept chickens or pigs from spring until fall and then put them in the freezer, so this is a little different! It is in some ways easier to do it that way, but then you are left re-buying everything each spring and not getting the full benefit of raising your own.
In addition to working on their bedding and housing situations, I have been researching nutrition… I figure with their bodies spending their energy staying warm it can’t hurt to have some extra nutrition! In my research I found something called “fermented feed”. I had no idea what it was, but I kept seeing it popping up all over the place, so I decided to give it a try. I’ve been feeding it for about a week now, and have certainly noticed some differences…so what is it? Fermented feed has been around for a long time, and it is basically putting some regular feed in a large jar (about 2/3 full to allow for expansion), covering with water, and stirring several times a day over the next 3-4 days to allow the feed to ferment (when its ready you will see bubbling at the surface).
Why would I do that? Fermenting the feed introduces lots of good bacteria (think yogurt!) into the mixture which ultimately reduces your animals feed requirements, eases digestion and ups their nutritional value. It introduces healthy bacteria into their digestive system, and can ward off parasites and illness just as healthy flora in your own body is effective at fighting illness. From what I have seen you can do this with lots of different types of feed, but we are just using it for our chickens and chicks right now. The chickens and chicks love it! They literally come running for it! I have noticed a dramatic reduction in feed requirements, I feed about 1/4 C of strained feed per chicken/per day, plus a little extra (where they previously ate a 2-quart sized scoop of scratch!). And their poop looks much healthier! It was previously kinda runny and almost foamy green (yuck) and now it looks like a big firm coil of brown/white bird poop 🙂 Aren’t you glad you know what my chickens poop looks like!? The fermented feed does have a smell to it, but its not really a bad smell, just kind of sour (like sour cream or yogurt). Do make sure you allow that extra head space in your container, and open to stir daily, otherwise it might leak **ahem (I may have done that, woops) After you have fed your animals all but maybe a serving of the fermented feed, simply add more feed and water to your container, stir and set aside until the next day, the good bacteria in the bottom of the container will multiply :). Here is 1 of 3 feed jars I have going (2 for adults, 1 for chicks) after I just added new feed to it, there are small bubbles forming, but once it has sat for awhile it will have larger bubbles. I added a label to cover the Planters Peanuts label, and to provide space for writing the date started. I have 2 and alternate every other day, mostly because I only had small jars, but I have found it is allowing the feed to have a day to ferment more after having new feed added to it.
Wow, that post went way off the topic of being cold, lol, but I wanted to share this information, and hope you find it as useful in your practices as I have found!