Nights are long, days are short. Temperatures are near freezing at night here in Ballarat.
Would you like to sleep outside on a frosty night, with an empty stomach?
I have chosen Wyandotte chickens because they are heavy birds, with a layer of insulating downy feathers as well as their top dress feathers to keep them warm.
Despite this, they enjoy a hot mash most mornings and eat way more than in warmer months as their bodies use up extra energy to keep warm and fend off winter chills.
Their chook shelter faces east, away from the prevailing winter south-westerly and north winds. This is the direction to face dog kennels and other animal housing entrances this time of year especially!
For some time now, just as I put on my coat and winter warmer clothes to take Whippet Boy on his walk, so too, he dons a warm coat, to keep him dry and protect him from winds. Outside, his kennel inside a shed, has straw heaped up to the top as a layer of insulation from the cold, when he is outside. I toss it every evening to ensure it is well fluffed up. Flat bedding does not insulate as well as bedding that will trap warm air!
The guinea pigs too, have straw heaped to their roof for insulation. Animals will naturally nest themselves up to protect themselves from winter's chill. Make sure your guinea pig is having plenty of foods rich in vitamin C, as they cannot generate it themselves. Like us, they rely on food sources to prevent scurvy, keep colds at bay and aid in healing and cell regeneration.
A friend takes her guinea pigs inside every night to nocturnal accomodation, giving them maximum protection from the cold. She uses their nocturnal indoor hours to pick them up and cuddle them awhile. Mine are not so lucky and are housed outside year round.
My elderly arthritic cat, enjoys the luxury of an electric blanket, to snuggle up to. Both he and Whippet Boy, vie for spots in front of the heater to toast themselves warm. Each of them have warm beds inside and sunny spots they favour by day. They will move themselves to catch the warmth of the rays of the sun, as it moves from east to west during the day in our sunroom.
Like us, all your animals will eat more this time of year.
My dad taught me to be wary of leaving horses or dogs rugged in winter, unless you are on site to check their rugs or coats regularly. Not only can they get caught up in fences or plants, nothing is colder and more chilling than a damp rug or coat in a chill wind. A wet pet's natural coat will dry relatively quickly. A damp rug will actually stay cold and damp way longer than a damp animal. The coat or rug, generates no heat in its own right. Your pet generates its own body heat and will dry out and get warm!
Way better a shed or stable facing east, or at least a very decent wind break planting to protect them from chilly prevailing winds. Beyond this, frost will accumulate at the lowest points of your site. Locate the frost pockets in your yards and ensure your animals are housed away from them.
The local wild birds have been looking hungry and cold. I offer the magpies a few scraps of meat occasionally, though not so regularly as to make them dependant. The sparrows steal crumble from the chooks. I do not begrudge them a little feed to get them through these cold days and nights. I am also planting winter flowering nectar filled species, such as correas and heaths, for the local honey eaters to feast on in winter.
Finally, spare a thought for the animals awaiting rehoming in shelters. Donated blankets and food are particularly welcome at this time of year.
Better still, adopt one if your circumstances permit and you want to bring a new animal into your life.
My moggy adopted me in the chill of winter and the image of him, with a full stomach, warm and comfortable asleep in my senior English class, in his cat carrier, on our very first afternoon together, is one I will remember until the day I die. No doubt, so too will my former students whose permission I sought, to bring him in to class with me!
A warm animal in winter, is a happy animal!