I am often asked how my sheep can survive the harsh Vermont winter storms. Yesterday our first big snow storm hit with a vengeance. We woke to swirling snow, subzero wind chills, and deep snow banks. With proper shelter and feed, our sheep have no difficulty with these winter conditions and cold temperatures.
Well ventilated…protection from wind…plenty of space
Proper winter shelters provide good ventilation, protection from the wind, and plenty of space. The shelter should allow fresh air to flow through the structure without causing direct drafts. Being shut in an enclosed barn, causes a build up of moisture and ammonia in the air, irritating their respiratory tract and causing infection. Sheep stay much healthier if they have access to sun and fresh air every day. Overcrowding should be avoided in the winter shelter as well, to provide healthy conditions. I was once told that each ewe needs approximately 10 square feet of space, 16-20 square feet if she has young lambs at her side. We have used this number in planning our winter shelters.
Wool-Warm From the Outside In
Sheep have their own natural source of insulation all over their bodies. Their wool keeps their body heat in and the cold out. That is why, you will see sheep with snow piled on their backs, their body heat does not reach the outer layers of their fleece to melt the snow. The lanolin in their wool also prevents moisture from getting to their skin. When doing chores, if my hands get cold, I will take off my mittens and bury my hands in the wool on one of the ewes to get warm.
Nutrition-Warm From the Inside Out
Proper nutrition….adequate feeding space
Proper nutrition and mineral supplement help protect sheep from succumbing to bitter winter conditions. In flocks, there are usually a few “under dogs” who get pushed away from the hay feeders. We take care to see that each sheep has plenty of room to eat. Due to the fermentation of fibrous matter, the rumination process actually creates a great deal of heat. This warms the sheep from the inside out, thus the need for good quality hay throughout winter months. The more sheep eat, the more heat they produce. A pregnant ewe will also have added heat from the lamb growing inside of her. We provide added energy to their diet during extreme cold weather. We give warm molasses water when the temps dip in the single digits for added energy.
Vermont Winter Storm
The thermometer registered 15 degrees this morning, with subzero wind chills. It is hard to tell how much snow actually fell in the night because there is so much wind and drifting. One thing is certain, we have a ton of snow. Today, I left the barn door open for the sheep to come and go as they please. The barn offers protection from the bitter wind. This morning, all the sheep, as well as the llama, were hunkered down in the barn. With the gusty wind, we fed them their hay in the barn and run in so they did not have to brave the wind to eat. Some will meander out to our three sided shelter in the paddock which provides a wind break for them. The sun shines into that shelter all day. Here the sheep like to gather to be warmed by the sun on cold winter days.