Preparing for the Polar Vortex on the Farm

Hoy, what a cold snap coming in here for us in Nova Scotia !

How do we care for our livestock in such extreme weather changes? I’ve been getting a few questions about that so I thought I’d break it down a bit. I am by no means an expert but common sense and experience go a long way.

What a huge fluctuation for us here

General care :

-access to plenty of water. When livestock eat hay and other pasture grasses to stay warm, they need to drink more as well. Chickens need the extra water to help continuing We keep a stock tub full with a heater in it so we can dip buckets but we also just lug warm water from the house several times a day in an extreme temperature fluctuation. Large animals such as horses do need more water to help digest the extra hay they will get to help keep them warm and the extra water helps prevent colic and just keeps everything in those stomachs running smoothly.

-Extra feed . Be prepared to feed extra during a cold snap.

-Extra bedding. Repeat after me: Animals are not human beings. Just because you are cold does not mean they are cold. They do need dry, clean bedding on a regular basis and I love to use a little extra straw for all the animals when it’s really cold. The extra feed will help them create heat and most have developed double layer coats to protect them. If you can, let them choose the environment they wish so they can regulate their temperature themselves rather than guessing what they need or worse-thinking they need what WE need.

-Don’t do anything strange. Just like you wouldn’t trailer animals in extreme heat or high heat fluctuations to avoid undo stress , you shouldn’t trailer them in extreme cold either. We just rescheduled an appointment for the horses we had when we looked at this week’s weather fluctuations. It’s preventative action to keep the animals healthy through this and avoid vet bills as much as possible.

-Make sure any animals who are struggling going into this have emergency medications ready.

Of course not all livestock is created equal. So each one needs a tweak or two in addition to what I mentioned above.

Chickens and Ducks

-We use deep litter for the chickens which helps insulate their feet. I will add in lots of extra straw and make sure aren’t any drafts in the coop on the chickens feet in particular . They have a vent for air flow but it’s up higher and they will need to have that open, even in the cold. Chickens give off extra respirations that can cause too much moisture for them to process resulting in sickness. I never keep water or food in my coop regardless of the weather. It’s always in the run. I keep a bucket for the ducks to dip their beaks in so they can digest their food properly. The ducks would make a dying mess of it if it was in the coop. This would create wet feet for the chickens which is unhealthy for them, but especially dangerous when they are both cold AND wet.

-Suet Blocks. I use my bacon grease to combine with oatmeal and seeds to make homemade suet blocks which I freeze and haul out for cold temperatures like these. I also sometimes will make a huge pot of oatmeal and take it to the chickens during cold snaps. It also prevents boredom.

-Collect eggs more regularly to prevent freezing.

Cooked potato skins and carrots make a nice warm treat on a cold morning

Horses and sheep

-Extra hay and bedding

-Warm water with their grain


-warm cooked slop

-extra hay and bedding

Farm Dogs

-raw meat bones from the freezer

-extra kibble

It won’t be a long beach walk day on Saturday. So I’ll make sure they get plenty of short walks instead.


-Extra hay and bedding

-Those not in insulated cages will be moved inside barn.

-water in bowls so if water freezes they can lick the ice

-we have two that live under the horse barn and they have created burrows so they will be just fine. They have access to water and feed.

Beef Cows

-Extra hay/silage

-Extra water

This Old House

Being prepared for frozen water pipes is a large part of weather changes. We have extra buckets filled with water ready to go and making sure taps are dripping to prevent them freezing.

But we do live in an old house so we have to also make sure cupboard doors are open under sinks so they get warm air to them, as well as keep them dripping.

We are also well stocked up on firewood, and emergency supplies.

I also made sure our meals are planned and centered around nourishing comfort food as we will be working extra chores. Nothing says comfort in -25 like a chicken stew and lasagna.

I hope this helps you, even in some small way to be prepared for the upcoming polar vortex and just for winter in general.

We have been very blessed this year with such mild temperatures. I feel we can hardly complain about our first real cold snap being in February.

That said, I hope it’s our only one!

Love Jenn xx

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