In the Deep Freeze...
Every winter, we get asked this question by many:
"How do the sheep handle the cold?"
Farmer Dale quote from today:
"My sheep are healthy. I'm not sure they even know it's cold."
So what does that mean, and how do we know they are thriving, even when it's minus bazillion out there?
Well, they are content; they are active in their normal way of moving between food and rest. They are staying in their flock. They are playing - which looks downright ridiculous to see them bucking and jumping. No one here should be having "lamb-pedes" - especially the full grown ewes, but they do much to our amusement.
How do we make it so they can withstand the extreme temperatures? We plan ahead for it as -35 degrees Celsius cold snaps are inevitable where we live.
It starts with a nutrition plan. Since we have just flushed the flock with extra groceries leading up to and during breeding, they are on a grain ration of barley every day that is maintained (or even slightly increased) while it is cold. Grain provides them with energy, which translates into warm bodies. Introducing grain to sheep too suddenly gives them trouble, so it it takes forethought. As winter slips away their ration will be tapered off, and then boosted again when they (but especially their babies), have higher needs again near full gestation.
The second strategy is that they are getting some of the best quality (green alfalfa) hay we have, which has more protein, more leaf matter, and more digestible material for their bodies to use as energy, while allowing them to grow strong babies.
Finally, we see to their comfort. On pasture, they need protection from the wind and a cozy spot with clean bedding to lay down in. They are wearing thick coats this time of year that you can lose your hand in making them impenetrable to snow and ice. When their coats are covered in snow that doesn't melt, it tells you how effective an insulation they are dressed up in. Most definitely, we are watching for signs of illness, and even things like stiffness or lameness.
Our ewe flock went into winter in excellent condition (better than last year for sure), so we are thankful for that. We are confident that they are comfortable, the little babies inside them are growing, and every day that goes by is one closer to lambing!