Winterizing livestock -- Why doesn't anyone talk about this?
Well, I do realize that I am exaggerating, but I am a bit frustrated. I don't seem to be able to find much info on what the small homesteader should do to bring critters through the winter in good condition.
Chickens... pretty much solved the problems there. They have a light on a timer and a heated water dish and when it gets really, really cold I attach the heat lamp to the timer as well. We've brought the chickens through two winters now and I am fairly confident that we have worked through most of the problems.
New this year are the rabbits and geese. Rabbits are great - docile, quiet and productive. But because the adults have individual cages, the problem of frozen water is very real. It is cost prohibitive to have a heated dish for each cage and I am not comfortable letting them go hours at a time with frozen water. We moved them from the outdoor rabbitry (great during the hot summer months) to the greenhouse and are about to move them into our front porch. This will solve the frozen water problem for this year at least. But there must be an easier way...
The geese are my biggest worry. They have a stall (6 ft x 4 ft) in the entrance room to the chicken house and a heated water bucket. This has been their night quarters since they were small goslings and it is adequate for sleeping... but with the recent, premature bitter temperatures and strong winds, I feel bad about either leaving them outside all day or bringing them in early. We are building a proper goose house with a predator safe pen but, again, it has been delayed by horrid fall weather.
And then there is their feed. They cannot forage effectively with several inches of crusty snow and they have only a tepid interest in grains. I am beginning to grow sprouted grains for them, but it takes time to get this going and I'm new to it and may lose some of the trays to moulds. Are they hungry? What should I feed them that I may not have thought of? I know their bodies stay warm thanks to their down undercoats but what about their feet? Their feet were bright orange-red when I brought them in and I immediately start worrying about frostbite.
The books are useless on these subjects. They don't seem to cover these questions at all. What I need is advice from people who raise geese and rabbits in cold climates. I hope some of you out there can offer me advice that will help the critters and ease my mind.