One of my least favorite parts of having animals is taking care of their water- especially in winter. I know I shouldn’t complain- we’ve had a very mild winter here up until the last week or so. And I don’t have to hike down to the stream to break ice and drag up water for the entire household! But collecting icy water containers, thawing them, refilling and subsequently splashing them all over yourself can be just so stinkin’ cold.
We don’t have any running water near any of our animals right now, so any thawing or refilling has to happen inside the house at the moment. The upside of my morning rounds is that I get a little exercise while I hike back and forth! However, hike or no hike, the animals need fresh water.
So, here’s my current winter water routine, for better or worse- as well as some improvements that I hope we can implement before the season is over. This post contains affiliate links.
Chickens– Right now, I’m just thawing and refilling a small water container in their coop on a daily basis. BUT we really need to break out the homemade waterer my husband made them last year. He took a five gallon bucket, drilled holes in the bottom, attached water nippers, and put an electric water heater inside. It was beautiful. We never had to thaw their water once that thing was set up. If you prefer to skip the DIY process, you can buy a pre-made heated waterer here.
Rabbits– Each morning I remove the rabbits’ bottles and bring them inside. I fill up a five gallon bucket with hot water and let the bottles thaw in there while I tend to the chickens. This doesn’t take too long, but you can purchase heated water bottles if you prefer a more automated system. If it were me, I’d rather spend a few minutes thawing than $50 for two water bottles. 😉
Goats– After giving the rabbits their bottles back, I was carrying over the bucket of water to pour into the goats’ frozen water tub. Then I would try to chip away the remaining ice with a shovel. However, I found that as the weather got colder, this work became more and more in vain. The bottom of the tub was always solid ice, and I only added to what I would have to thaw the next day by pouring more hot water on top of it.
I finally got smart and just started bringing the goats a big kitchen-bowl full of water each morning. That’s much easier to handle- and to thaw out if it gets frozen. Of course, an electric water heater for their tub would also be an option.
We don’t have a perfect system down yet, but at the very least we know there are options available to make our watering chores more a bit easier.
Here’s some more reading on fresh water for your animals:
For several days in a row, there were no eggs in the coop. Strange, I thought. My husband had finally given the chickens a good sized permanent paddock from which they can’t easily escape, so I knew they weren’t getting out and laying in the yard. (Though they do like to send us on literal egg hunts whenever they are given the opportunity.)
We resigned ourselves to the idea that this must be that time of the year when they stop laying. Most people who buy eggs at the store don’t know it, but hens will naturally stop laying for a time when daylight grows shorter. You can give them artificial light so they’ll keep laying longer- which is what commercial eggeries do (“eggery” must be the technical term, right? 😉 ) – but we haven’t yet taken that step.
Then, the hens began to display some grotesque and unusual features. Their heads looked shrunken at first. Then a little while later their heads looked like helmets and their neck resembled those gizzards you find inside your grocery store chicken. (Gulp.) They were dropping feathers everywhere. Our rooster-normally quite glorious, mind you- looked like a gangly, awkward teenager who forgot some important article of clothing.
I was concerned at first. What’s up with these frankenchickens? Are they diseased? Will I lose my entire flock?
But then I had a lightbulb moment. This must be what molting looks like! (Slaps forehead.) For some reason I could remember that hens stop laying for a time in the fall, but I completely forgot that they molt too. Duh. Let’s blame this one on mom brain, shall we?
The molting process generally takes around 7 weeks, but can be longer or shorter depending on the birds and conditions. During this time, most of their nutrition and energy is going into new feather production- hence, the lack of egg laying. They just can’t do it all at one time, and who can blame them?
The nice part about frakenchickens is that they are only molting for a time, and then they will grow some nice new fluffy feathers for winter. Then they will begin laying anew for another season. (This article has some good information and photos on the molting process and how to help your chickens get through it.)
I’m told that each year post-molting hens may lay a little less frequently, but the eggs they do lay are generally bigger. Having only had chickens for a year, I cannot yet attest to the truth of this statement. Regardless, I’m looking forward to having my nice fluffy chickens back in laying order.
It’s not like you don’t have enough to take care of.
Are the animals really worth the work?
Can’t you buy milk for less than it costs to keep a goat?
Chickens stink. Are you sure you want them?
While there are a lot of folks who support and desire the acquisition of backyard chicken flocks and homestead dairy sources, there are just as many who think it’s wacky and impractical to keep these types of animals. Why would you keep a “farm animal” if you don’t live on a farm? There are several reasons why we prefer to keep our lively mini-farm bleating and clucking outside our doors, rather than to house domestic animals indoors.
The first reason is usefulness. Some people like to keep a dog or cat. We like to keep animals that help to feed us. Both my husband and I are “dog people”- that is, we like dogs and think they’re wonderful companions. However, we feel that at this point in our lives, we can’t justify the expense of feeding and caring for an animal that doesn’t give us something practical in return. Not only do our animals feed us, they are also scrap-consumers and free compost producers. Pretty cool.
The second reason is cost. We used to spend about $30/monthly on litter and food for our two cats (who have since changed ownership). While we enjoyed having them, it was an extra bill that we didn’t need. We now spend about $15/month on our goat’s grain, and we get milk in return. (Usually. 😉 The crazy goat is calming down and increasing supply a bit.) We spend about the same on organic chicken feed monthly, but we also get wholesome eggs to feed our family daily. For the same cost as two cats who peed on our furniture and tried to scratch the baby, we now keep animals that significantly lower our grocery bills.
The third reason is cleanliness. While chickens and goats aren’t particularly clean animals, their mess does stay outside. I don’t mind cleaning a coop out every few weeks. I do mind a smelly litter box in the laundry room.
The fourth reason we like our farm animals is that they bring us closer to our food sources. I love knowing where my food comes from, and it can’t get more local and hands-on than our backyard. There’s something deeply satisfying about being involved in raising your own food.
Finally, I like that our kids will grow up around these animals. I think that any animal can teach valuable lessons to children- responsibility, carefulness, and dealing with life and death, to name a few. But I particularly like that our children will have the chance to contribute to our needs by caring for these animals. It’s not just walking the dog because he has to be walked- it’s gathering the eggs so we can make pancakes together, or milking the goat so we can have a fresh glass with our breakfast. Not only do they learn responsibility by caring for the animals, they also become valuable providers for our family by completing their chores. (This is all in my head, as they’re not tall enough to reach the nesting boxes or strong enough to deal with the goat kicking yet… but you know. Eventually.)
While we are fully aware that our little patch of ground and the few creatures that live here are nowhere near a full functioning farm, we enjoy keeping our handful of “farm” animals. They help to meet our basic needs, while still providing entertainment and wholesome work for all of us. Even though they’re not as common a choice as a dog, cat, or fish, I think we’ll keep on keeping them for now.
Do you own a backyard farm animal? Why do you keep them?
Have you ever wondered how chickens and gardens help each other out? If you’re a seasoned chicken keeper, I’m sure you already know. If you’re not, now you can learn how chickens and gardens join hands (er, wings?) in the “circle of life.” Yes, I did intend to get the song stuck in your head. You’re welcome.
All cheesiness aside, chickens and gardens can be a wonderful pair. The garden has been our birds’ autumn home, and they each provide some give and take for each other.
When the first frost was inevitable, we harvested the last of our crops and opened the chicken coop up inside the fenced garden area. In the weeks that followed, our birds took to pecking, scratching, and trampling through the remainder of the plants that stayed in the garden. They got the benefit of the garden scraps while they performed the labor of post-season soil aeration and fertilization for us. Thank you, gentle fowl.
After the leaves fell from our tress, the hubby took great loads of them to the garden and spread them about. Hello, rich compost! Plus the birds get to enjoy all of those little bugs that thrive in dying organic material. Both the birds and the dirt get nourishment for the winter.
Remember all of those garden goods we preserved? Now, when we take them out to prepare them, we put the scraps into our compost buckets. The compost buckets get tossed to the chickens. The birds pick through what they like of that, and work the remains into the soil as well.
And what will become of all of it? Our garden will be chock full of nutrients to help our plants grow big and strong. Our chickens will give us healthy, free-range eggs for our family. Perhaps we’ll even get some chicks in the future if they decide to be broody! And eventually, our current birds will become a wholesome food source for our family as well.
And the joy of it? It can start over again each year. New plants for the chickens in the spring to eat, new chicks to grow happy and healthy, new food for the soil, and new food for us, from both the garden and the birds. The giving is cyclical, and the cycle fosters gratitude.
We are thankful for the provision these birds can give. Nothing will be wasted, and all will be appreciated.