Preparing Animals at Sunset Hill Farm for Winter
The leaves were changing, the scent of fall was in the air, then POOF! Suddenly, we had an inch of snow on the ground one week prior to Thanksgiving! While it is not the norm to see snow before Thanksgiving in Northwest Indiana, it is not unheard of. At Sunset Hill Farm County Park, we have been preparing our farm and its inhabitants for freezing temperatures, frigid wind chills, and wintry precipitation.
All of the animals on our farm are species that would normally adapt to winter weather in the wild. However, we do our best to make them comfortable. Our Nigerian Dwarf Goats can tolerate temperatures as low as 15 degrees below zero (Fahrenheit) due to their thick winter coats they begin growing each autumn. The key is to provide them with a shelter that shields them from elements such as rain, ice, snow, and wind. It is also a good idea to provide plenty of extra hay, as consuming food provides them with more energy for keeping warm. If they have these, they are happy!
Our poultry (chickens, ducks, and turkeys) have heating elements inside their coops that automatically produce heat if temperatures drop below freezing. We also provide them with pine wood shavings, which is one of the best beddings for poultry. Plenty of roosting space is also ideal for chickens. Our ducks even have a small, heated pool that is rinsed and refilled daily. It is not necessary for ducks to have a water source in the winter, but they definitely enjoy it! We also provide our poultry with a low-wattage red light that is on during hours of darkness, which encourages egg production and reduces aggression toward each other.
Our lambs (Cotswold sheep) have just witnessed snow for the first time, and they are loving it. They frequently frolic in their area and enjoy nudging the snow with their noses. Cleanliness is important for sheep, especially in the wintertime. Our sheep were sheared (their wool is shaved off) in the beginning of the fall season to prevent precipitation from matting down their fur and causing hypothermia. Our sheep are sheared about twice a year; once in the fall, and once at the beginning of summer.
Our rabbits live in a two-story hut with wire flooring on the top floor (for their droppings to fall through, as deemed appropriate by the USDA). They have doors on all sides of their housing, which are closed at night when temperatures are exceptionally low. It is important to also have a small enclosed space for them to hide to give them more security and warmth.
You might notice that our ponies currently look pretty shaggy! That’s because like the goats on our farm, they have grown a thick winter coat. They also have a barn that protects them from the elements, but they are free to come in and out as they please. Sometimes they prefer to stand out in the rain! Ponies are notorious for enjoying rolling in the mud and getting soaked, which makes it difficult for their caretakers who have to clean them up!
Each of our animals are housed or locked inside in the evening with the exception of our ponies. Winter time is sometimes a desperate time for predators to find food, and our chickens, ducks, turkeys, and rabbits would make a tasty meal for a coyote or raccoon. The goal is to keep our animals safe from predators as well as the elements.
All of our animals are let outside during daylight hours, and it is free to come by the park and pay them a visit. We ask that you resist the temptation of feeding them any snacks unless they are accompanied by a naturalist, as they have special diets. However, you may interact with them and pet the goats, sheep, and ponies through the fences. This time of year is our downtime for programming, and our animals don’t get to see people as often. So if you’re feeling some winter blues or cabin fever, perhaps you could take a walk at our park and stop by the farm area for a bit!
This article was written by Natalie Klancer, our Program Coordinator for Farm and Animals.