Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Bovine Parking Lot

Watering Animals in Winter

Animal Naturopathy is a major part of our life here at Highland Glenn Ranch, so I’ve been writing a series of posts on our English Shepherd blog discussing the naturopathic Eight Laws of Health. I wanted to share one here also as it relates to all the other animals on the Ranch - Water.

Rain, snow, sleet, hail, gropple (yes, there really is such a weather term!) are all forms of water, or more precisely precipitation, during winter. The tendency may be to think that animals have decreased winter water needs. The fact is they need it in the depths of winter just as in the height of summer. Frigid air results in loss of hydration. For goodness sake, freezing temperatures can pull the moisture right out of wet laundry (think “freeze drying”) and you should see my hands in winter!

Although animals do eat snow, it should never be their main source of water. It lowers their body temperature thereby increasing the need for food and shelter to keep warm; and they simply cannot fill their water needs in that form… period. Have you ever melted a big pot of snow to see how much water you get in the end? Barely a fraction of what you collected!

Cattle maintain a high need for water in winter. For one thing, they are eating hay which has very little moisture compared to fresh grass. Second, water is absolutely essential to healthy rumen function, thus complete nutrient absorption as well as generating heat to keep warm. Third, a lot of water is needed for adequate milk production. Oftentimes lactating cows visit the water trough many times more than the rest of the herd. Providing large quantities of water in freezing temperatures is challenging. A bovine can slurp down a couple gallons of water at a time! If the ice in the water trough is fairly thin they break it themselves, but on really cold days when it’s much thicker, we need to help. Icy cold water can cause shivering and disrupt rumen activity. Be prepared to supplement your herd with some good alfalfa hay if this happens, even as little as one flake per day will help.  Some folks utilize a tank heater and/or automatic waterer, these are real work savers. Our Ranch uses very little electricity so we have to think of alternative solar methods.

Our rabbit herds’ winter water needs remain fairly constant. Rabbits have an interesting ability to adjust their consumption in freezing temperatures. After we knock the ice out of the crock and refill it, they instinctively drink as much as possible before it freezes again. Just like cattle, if the ice that forms is thin enough they will break it themselves.

Even though sheep are also eating dry hay in winter, their water needs seem to decrease slightly, possibly because their wool fleece retains so much body heat. However, being ruminants like cattle they still need to have fresh, ice-free water available at all times for complete rumen function. And they don’t seem as keen to break ice out of their bucket, but baa for help instead!

Chickens are similar to sheep in a slight decrease of winter water needs but definitely need their human caretakers to keep it clear of ice.

The health and happiness of your animals is worth the extra work in winter caring for their water needs!

Monday, December 17, 2012


Isn’t it cute?!! That was our first egg back in October. Production was way too low until we found a local source of soy-free non-GMO layer feed to supplement our organic whole grain mix with, or vice versa. The combo must be right cause we’re up to six eggs a day! That means we can finally stop buying eggs at the store. Woo hoo!

It’s amazing how fresh eggs cook up so different from old store eggs. The whites are firm and don’t run all over the skillet. The yolks are also more firm so break less even while turning them over; and such a lovely sunny yellow that can’t help but put a smile on your face. And the taste… well, it’s simply incomparable, rich and flavorful. Like an egg is supposed to taste, only most people don’t even know it!

With 17 hens it won’t be long until we’re up to our eyeballs in eggs. Fine by us, we love eggs and so do the dogs! I’ve been saving cartons (and designing labels) for just such a time. We will sell the surplus. The girls like to contribute toward their upkeep.   ;)

The meat piglets coming in spring will love fresh eggs , too.

Wednesday, December 12, 2012


There is a new sound on the ranch, new voices echoing through the glen and filtering through the pines. It is the collective voice of a small flock of Shetland sheep, which has joined what we now refer to as our livestock “fold”!!! After three years of waiting and dreaming (quite literally of late!) it seems almost surreal to finally have our own flock! We are Shepherds!!!

Shetlands sheep are an ancient, hardy, thrifty, low maintenance, primitive breed. They hail from the Shetland Islands off the northern coast of Scotland; what is called a hill breed, they thrive on rough forage and browse, in extreme weather, and rocky hills; small size, friendly disposition, minimal intervention, multiple births, strong flocking instinct, protective/attentive mothers, parasite resistant, delicious mild meat, and the finest wool of all British breeds renowned for its soft silky feel. Shetlands don’t even need their tails docked!

Sheep in general are called “golden hooved” partly because their size minimizes impact on even wet ground. Shetlands are one of the smaller sheep breeds. According to ATTRA, it has been demonstrated that grazing sheep with cattle increases total meat production by as much as 24% than cattle alone, and more than 9% than solely sheep.

Along with our other resident ruminants, American Milking Devon cattle, the Shetland sheep will be grass-fed, no grain. We must include weeds too for they are terrific at weed control! This species appropriate diet for ruminants, as well as no chemicals/medications/antibiotics, will contribute to healthy meat and quality fleeces. We think they’ll be a perfect fit in our multi-species managed intensive grazing system.

Our beautiful flock represents a few of the 11 main Shetland colors. And let me tell you, their fleeces are glorious!!! The young ram named Hawthorn is dark brown; two ewe lambs named Honeysuckle and Poppy are fawn which is sort of a creamy color; the mature ewes- Taffy is brown with light tips, Lassy is black with grey tips, and Blossom (the eldest), is fawn with light grey underneath. It’s kind of neat too that Lassy and Honeysuckle have horns.

The three mature ewes are likely bred. Hawthorn may breed the younger ones this month; he’s been showing a lot of interest in Honeysuckle. We look forward with great anticipation to our first lambs in spring, as well as our very first crop of gorgeous wool!!!

Just in case you’re wondering… I don’t know how to spin yet, but will be learning. Yes, we will be offering wool for sale, just not sure in which forms (fleece, tanned pelts, yarn, or all of the above). You can be sure it will be stunningly beautiful!

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

New Chooks on the Ranch


 That’s Canadian-speak for chickens. A friend is moving and had some laying hens that needed a new home. So we gladly obliged to house a few, so nine new hens have joined the resident flock. They are mostly Barred Rocks.

We put up a wire fence barrier dividing the chicken yard. There was some wing flapping and charging for a couple days. Then we took the barrier down and let them mingle. The integration went wonderfully! No fighting at all, just a little “back off chick” body language.

So we’re back up to 17 chickens, like before the predators decimated our flock.

Now if everyone would just finish their molt so we can enjoy some yummy eggs. Sigh.