With winter finally here, the farming workload seems to lighten. Winter is a time of rest and contemplation. It is also a time to recuperate from the busy summer season.
Normally we just have laying hens in the barn, over the winter, so the chores take almost no time at all. But this year we have kept four of the geese and we also got two new piglets just after Thanksgiving.
This makes for a much noisier barnyard than we usually have. The geese, which make most of the noise (a friend compared the noise to rusty playground equipment), also have no problem with going outside into the snow. Chickens won’t even walk in the stuff if they don’t have to.
We have two small doors open to a couple of fenced yards for the birds to go outside if they want. The four geese are outside almost continuously while the 100 laying hens stay inside the barn, not wanting to go out. This could be one reason the word “chicken” has such skittish connotations.
Part of the reason that the doors stay open is that the birds need ventilation. With that many birds breathing and moving around, the humidity can become quite unbearable if we aren’t careful. Combine that with the buildup of their manure, and the air quality would become toxic.
So, fresh air is better than warm air for most farm animals. Keeping direct sunlight (on the manure) to a minimum also helps keep it from overheating and filling the air with ammonia, something that no one should breathe – animal or human.
The animals generally build up a store of fat to keep them warm before winter hits. And during winter their feed intake is used almost exclusively to produce body heat.
One way that we do help the birds keep warmer in the winter is to not clean out their manure until spring. This allows it to slowly compost under their feet, adding heat as it does so.
We do have an insulated barn, but we don’t use any other heat source in it. And although there are small doors open we haven’t had their water freeze, even when the outside temperature drops to -40 or colder.
This will be the second time we are overwintering pigs. The first time was in an uninsulated building with little ventilation. And they didn’t grow much, but those were the hairiest pigs I have ever seen. I didn’t know that a pig could put on a “winter coat” like other animals.
A pig will also give off a lot of heat to its surroundings … enough heat that some early farmers used to build only one building and live above the animals, using this extra heat to keep their homes warm, too. Can’t say as I would enjoy the smell though. But housing the pigs with the chickens definitely will be warm for all.
The first thing that I did after settling the piglets into their new home was to find names for them. These pigs are going to be breeding stock, so I won’t be eating them.
They are both Tamworth, a heritage breed meant to live off the land as opposed to living in huge barns in large concentrations. They don’t do well in those situations, but living free-range on pasture should be ideal for them.
The purebred Tamworth is called Sienna as she is a dark-red colour. The three-quarters pure Tamworth piglet is black so she is named Kali, which means “the black one” (original, I know).
Both are gilts or unbred females. When they are old enough we intend to have them bred to a Tamworth boar named Boris. This will allow us to raise our own pigs from birth instead of getting them at six to eight weeks old.
I plan to have a large pen for Kali and Sienna to forage in, come summer, but until then they will have to stay in the barn with the birds for the winter.