By Megan McBride, Farmyard Coordinator
Winter at Coverdale Farm Preserve is always a beautiful time of year. With the vegetables fields in the CSA safely planted with cover crops our main focus becomes the health and happiness of all our unique animals.
Winter on the farm can provide many challenges regarding our animal husbandry. Even when the snow falls and the roads are frozen, all of our cattle, sheep, goats, chickens, and pigs still need lots of care. Every day all of the animals receive fresh hay or grain, and special attention is paid to their water. The animal’s access to fresh and clean water is critical to their health. Every day, sometimes multiple times a day, the animal’s drinking water is refresh and de-iced. Water is the most important necessity for all of the animals here at Coverdale Farm Preserve, including the farmers. All water, including ground, rain, and snowmelt here at Coverdale eventually drains into the Burrow’s Run creek. The Burrow’s Run is a vital tributary of the larger Red Clay Creek. Special attention is paid to limiting the amount of wasteful runoff here at the farm. Water conservation practices at Coverdale include planting native trees, shrubs, and grasses along riparian buffers and surrounding animal areas to minimize wasteful runoff.
One might think that all of the animals that are living outside in the winter here at Coverdale might be cold. Each animal has it’s own natural defense against the cold. Pigs grow extra fat and burrow in the straw to stay warm. The sheep have a wooly coat that insulates them. The goats grow an undercoat of downy hair, known as cashmere. The cattle grow extra thick hair and their fat helps shield them from winter’s icy wrath. Extra hair might not seem like much extra warmth, and on it’s own it is not. The hair traps thousands of tiny pockets of air, which aids in insulation. Chicken feathers trap pockets of air much like an animals fur. Most animals can stay out in the cold and not be bothered. However on a windy or rainy day they seek shelter so the wind and rain do not flatten their air pocket insulation.
The sheep, goats and chickens have a hard time walking in high snow and prefer to stay in their shelters when the snow is deep. When this happens, as it so often does, the farmers strap on their snowshoes and break a path to their feed and water. The cattle however can easily move in the snow and will be seen more frequently outside on a snowy day.
Although it is cold and snowy now, we are preparing for a very busy spring. Our first lambs and piglets are due in late March and shortly thereafter the vegetable fields will be bursting with life. Remember to eat more vegetables, drink lots of clean Delaware water, and sign up for one of our amazing programs today!