There’s a lot to be done to prepare for winter. For those of you who live in the South, it probably isn’t as big of a concern. For those of us who live in the North in places with several months of freezing temperatures, cold winds and snowstorms, it’s a big concern.
Every year we change something with the livestock. It takes a long time to figure out exactly what species and breeds you want to keep. I know I like keeping egg laying chickens, but I’m always trying a new breed, or 6. I tend to run experiments, testing 6 or more breeds against each other to see which one I like best. I still haven’t decided. We’ve had layers for almost 10 years now, and I still can’t decide.
Last year I tried ducks. I love ducks. They are neat birds, and the eggs are great. So now I have to decide if I want only ducks or ducks and chickens. I think I want both. The farm is a work in progress, and I’m not sure I’ll ever have it all figured out. I’m not really sure I want to ever have it all figured out. I’d get bored and have to start something new if I didn’t have something to learn.
We have finally settled on a breed of cow, the Dexter. They are miniature cows from Ireland. They are very hardy and graze well on less than ideal forage. We have a sweet little bull, with a huge body and stubby little legs. One reason I like them is that the bulls are really gentle. I don’t worry about the kids walking in the pasture with him. He just isn’t aggressive. You can milk the cows, and the fat globules are smaller, making Dexter milk easier to digest. I do much better with Dexter milk than other breeds. And the cows are nice. The breed is just a little more like a dog in behavior than other breeds of cows.
This year I also got some Dwarf Nigerian goats. I love goat milk, and I find my body just prefers it. Goats are difficult to fence and their personality tends to be contrary. They do everything you don’t want them to do. The Dwarf Nigerians are tiny, easier to fence, and have a nicer temperament. I got a few Pygmy goats, which are meatier than the Dwarf Nigerians. I like them too. I’m loving the milk, too. It’s high in butterfat and tastes amazing. And I also love it that the kids can play with them. Our 3 year old climbs the fence to go play with the goats. They come up for a scratching but don’t jump or knock her over.
Because the animals I keep changes a little every year, I need to make adjustments to the winter yards and sheds every year too. We used to have pigs. Now the goats are in the pig hut, and I built a different yard and pasture for them.
I needed a more predator proof chicken house, so we buried chicken wire around the inside wall of the chicken house. It’s a nice, tight structure with chickens and rabbits in it. This winter I’m going to be having a bunch of baby goats born, and I need a good place for them to spend the night away from their moms. I’m thinking that a nice little dog house inside the chicken and rabbit house will work well. I’m going to build a little yard for them to play in and have the chicken house to keep them warm at night. The more animals sharing a house the better. They keep each other warm.
One final problem that we keep struggling with is where to keep the calf. We only have one this year, and he really needs to be kept away from the rest of the herd. The rest of the herd usually drives away the calves from the hay, making it hard for the little ones to eat. That, and sometimes not being allowed inside the shed, means that they have a difficult time surviving the winter. But being alone in a yard isn’t good either, since one calf can’t stay very warm when it’s alone. This year we’re going to try keeping him with his mom in their own little shed and yard. She’ll let him eat. Hopefully she’ll also prevent him from nursing once she gets close to calving in the spring. I’m in the process of building their new shed. I’m cobbling it together out of pieces of other sheds that are no longer needed. So far I have the frame and roof up. Today the walls go on. It should be a nice little place for mom and calf to spend the winter.