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Spring Weather and Raising Animals Outside

The first day of spring  and the cold and snow got us thinking about the weather. As farmers, the weather is a huge part of our lives. Get any farmers together and the first topic of conversation is often the weather. What it has been, what it is and what we hope it will be over the next few months. For all farmers the snow that we received in February and March was a great blessing. It was looking like a very dry winter until the snow arrived and we are very grateful for it.

The weather affects all aspects of our farm and we try and work with mother nature rather then against it. This requires careful management of the land, animals and a great deal of flexibility. For the cattle we always purchase lots of certified organic hay in the fall so we are prepared for all weather possibilities. A long winter, a slow spring melt, a dry winter or dry spring can all delay the fresh new grass in the pasture from growing and cause us to feed the cattle hay for a longer period of time. We also purchase lots of certified organic straw in the fall so that no mater what winter weather we get we always have lots of dry bedding for the cattle and pigs.

The pigs are outside year-round and are given lots of straw in the winter to keep them warm. Year round we bring our farrowing sows into a warm barn where each sow is given a large area with lots of straw in it. They are never in any type of farrowing crate. They come in just before they are going to farrow and then as soon as the piglets are a week old they go back outside. For us this works the best as we feel we can monitor the sows that are about to give birth better and offer any help that they or the newborn piglets need. It also protects the newborn piglets from the weather and predators.  The pigs are perhaps the least affected by the unpredictable spring weather for they love the mud and the grass. The pigs are moved from their winter shelters into their summer pastures as soon as the pasture is mostly free from snow and the weather is warm enough that the lines that bring them fresh water won’t freeze.

Right now the chickens, both our laying hens and meat birds, are nice and warm and dry in our winter barns where they have lots of room to move around, natural light and clean bedding. For the chickens the spring weather has a great impact on when they are moved outside. At the end of April we monitor the weather forecast very closely in order to make sure that the weather will be warm enough to move them to their shelters.  A slow spring melt or lots of snow can mean that the chicken shelters are frozen to the ground later then we had anticipated. A cold wet spring can also delay when we move the chickens outside as chickens don’t like being wet and cold. If the weather changes in the spring and it gets cool and wet after the chickens are outside, we will put natural wood shavings in the shelters to help keep them warm and dry. Despite the challenges that raising chickens outside brings we feel that it is worth it as the chickens are able to perform their natural behaviors such as scratching in the dirt looking for bugs and grubs and basking in the sun.

We feel that by working with mother nature and not against her we can give our animals all the benefits of a life lived outside, in the fresh air, sunshine and green grass.

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