It is great to be able to visit farms in other areas of the state and nation. Today we are in southern Illinois for a short farmer conference in Carbondale, Illinois, hosted by an organization called FoodWorks (eatsouternillinois.org). We've enjoyed going to restaurants and cafe's that feature local food from farmers within a 100 mile radius. Tonight we will be able to meet a large number of farmers who are getting together to learn more about cooperative work that will benefit them all. It is exciting for us to see how other farms operate and to talk to other farmers who also grow food. It is always inspiring! We see a lot of great ideas that could help on our farm, including new equipment and planting ideas. We love looking at the cultural differences in agricultural buildings (barns, cribs, etc.). This part of our "farm research" is really a lot of fun!
But, you might be wondering who takes care of the farm when we are away. Farms, the kind with animals, unfortunately don't take care of themselves. So, we don't often get a "vacation" of a week or two. Usually we are able to take a couple days off at a time. Will, our son and partner in the farm, is working at the meat locker this winter. He has agreed to take care of the animals while we are gone for three days.
Our animals are very easy to take care of. We usually just open the doors for the poultry in the morning and then after they go in, in the evening, we close the door. In the winter we give them a scoop of grain (wheat, barley or oats) and keep their water dishes filled. If it gets freezing cold, I have heaters that their water containers sit on to keep them from freezing. Water is most important thing to have for all of the animals.
Each cage of pigs and the two sheep are given a "brick" of hay (about 4" thick piece of a square hay bale) in the morning and again in the evening. They have rubber water dishes so if the water freezes we can break the ice out without breaking the dish. They get new water morn and eve and sometimes we will give the pigs a treat of apples, squash, wheat, or turnips. The sheep don't like treats but love their hay. The cows have a water tank that we fill with about 30 gallons of water and then put a water heater in it to keep the ice from forming. They also get hay, but usually it is a bale a day for the two of them.
Other than that, we make sure the tarps stay on the pigs cages, the doors to the poultry houses are open for the poultry to get in out of the cold if they want, and the sheep can come in the barn if the weather is bad. The cows have a shelter they can get into if the weather is too icy. Most of the animals like the cold weather, but the chickens don't like to walk on snow. The ducks love the snow and go belly flopping on the snow. They also like skating on the ice!
All in all, we find that farm animals can be easy to take care of all year round. We don't have a lot of animals, don't have to buy our own feed, and most of them can stay outside in all kinds of weather. Housing can be pretty minimal for the hearty breeds and for poultry also. If you are interested in getting livestock, do some research to find the heartiest breeds and it will make your life a lot easier. And, if you are wanting to have them in a town or city, research the requirements of your town. You might be surprised to find that you can have your own eggs, meat or milk even though you live in an urban area.