Surviving on a livestock farm during a polar vortex
By Pauline Scott
What do I do if there is a power outage? That is often a question that comes to mind when air temperature and wind chill factors drop into the minus range, as witnessed in central Ohio on Jan. 6 and 7.
It is not a question Farmer Jeff at Stratford Ecological Center on Liberty Road waits to ask himself. All winter he periodically fires up the tractors to ensure one of them will work when he needs to haul the heavy generator to the electrical hookup. The box is concealed amongst the tall perennial grasses in the flower bed referred to as the electrical bed, on the front lawn near the machine shed.
It takes about thirty minutes to set up the system for minimum delivery of power. Panels must be switched in the education building, machine shed and farmhouse to ensure that heat, lights, freezers and water pumps continue to operate. Ensuring a supply of water is crucial for the livestock.
The livestock have not left the barn in a month. The hens stayed entirely in the coop for three days, and whether it was the lengthening days or forced inactivity, they laid 16 eggs in one day – a great improvement. All the stock, the hens and cats in particular, are drinking more water than they ever do in the summer.
We are feeding more hay, using our lower quality supply, in an effort to meet the animals’ need for carbohydrates, to produce heat energy and keep warm. Water is very necessary in this metabolic process, and explains why their water intake has increased so much during this cold spell. Any hay not eaten becomes additional bedding and conserves our straw.
The smaller animals fare worst in extreme cold. They have less body mass in relation to their body surface area. They loose heat more quickly than larger animals with a higher ratio of mass to surface area, which enables them to retain more heat. When our goats rouse in the morning, they have to sit for a moment until their circulation increases as they have become stiff with cold, despite plenty of bedding.
Roxie, our sow, has built a round straw nest against the wall separating her from the wide barn walkway, and as far away as possible from the open side of the barn. Although never toileting on her bedding, it appears to me she is not going far these days to relieve herself! As her water line in the middle of the pen was the only one to freeze, her pen may indeed be the coldest. Roxie is still big but not fat, and she is ready to mate. We decided against artificial insemination as it is too difficult to detect when she comes in heat. She does not display the same signs as a sow less exposed to people. A boar is expected to arrive next week.
As I walked the pens after the polar vortex I noticed the animals look in better condition than in early December. The ewes are especially well, with their thick white fleeces accentuating the swell of their lambs awaiting birth. None have arrived yet, and we expect lambing to extend over a longer period than usual this season. Marge and Sylvia, the Corriedale ewes, have become friendly with Farmer Jeff and finally settled in with the other ewes. They should, like them, have bred with our Tunis ram.
Outside the barn little is happening, and those animals with enough body fat like groundhogs and chipmunks, have settled in for a long hibernation. Rabbit and deer tracks are visible, and there have been cardinals on the feeder, but few bluebirds. We are not feeding the bees as we could do more harm than good if we opened up the hives.
Farm camp registration started on January 15. Demand from campers remains high and we have extended our season with an extra week for ages 9 – 12 year. Registration details are on our web site.
We invite you to enjoy our maple sugaring activities. One hour guided hikes to the sugar shack are scheduled for Saturday, Febr. 22 and March 1, starting every half hour from 10 a.m. – 12:30 p.m. at a cost of $3 per person. Reservations are required please. Our annual Pancake Breakfast of home-made pancakes, syrup and sausage, is slated for Saturday, March 8 with reserved seating every hour from 8 a.m. – noon, at a cost of $10/adult and $7/child (2-12 years old.)
Pauline Scott is a farm and nature guide at Stratford Ecological Center, 3083 Liberty Road, Delaware, Ohio 43015. Tel. 740 363 2548. Email StratfordCenter@aol.com or visit our web site at StratfordEcologicalCenter.org
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