THIS RURAL LIFE: Keeping Your Pets and Flock Safe and Warm This Winter

By Shaun Thomas

Have you been feeling this chill in the air? We’ve had some downright cold early mornings so far this year, and winter appears to be descending upon us. When temperatures drop, our family loves to cozy up by the fire, sip our hot cocoa, and retire early to watch movies in bed. I’d much rather be inside than out in the cold weather. Not my pup, though. He’s a Labrador through-and-through, and doesn’t skip a beat when the thermometer drops into the 20s. Most evenings, I have to lure him back indoors with the promise of treats. If your pet is like mine, you may need to take extra care this winter to be sure he or she is safe and warm.

As a responsible pet owner, it is important to remember that dogs and cats are domesticated animals, and are as accustomed to the warm shelter of the indoors as we are. As a general rule of thumb, if it is too cold for you, it’s probably too cold for your pet, so bring your animals inside if you can. If and when we do get snow this winter, chemicals from ice-melting agents become dangerous when licked off bare paws. Take special care to wipe down your pet’s paws after spending time outdoors after a snow.  Massaging petroleum jelly into paw pads before going outside can help protect from salt and chemical agents. Antifreeze is also dangerous, so be sure to promptly clean up any spills from your vehicle.

Pets, like my adventurous Lab, burn extra energy and need more calories, so consider adding an extra scoop to their feed during the cold winter months. In and out of the cold, into dry heat of your home, can cause itchy, flaky skin. Towel dry your pet as soon as he comes inside, paying special attention to feet and between the toes. Plenty of water to drink will help with hydration and keep skin less dry.  Limiting baths will also lessen the chance of dry flaky skin, since bathing tends to remove essential oils from the skin.

Our backyard chickens are designed to fare better outdoors in winter, but there are things you can do to keep your flock happy and healthy. Your coop should be predator-proof and draft-free, but with some ventilation to keep the area dry and not damp. Tightly insulated coops not only retain heat, they can retain moisture, which increases the risk of frostbite, respiratory ailments, and mold related diseases. Your girls (and guys) should have access to ice-free water and plenty of food at all times. In order to stay warm, those hens take in 1.5 times the feed they normally eat in summer months, so be sure they have plenty. Cracked corn added to their diet helps in keeping warm, believe it or not. Cracked corn is harder to digest, and the process creates the heat needed to keep your girls warm, so add a bit to their diet.

Paying special attention to your animal’s needs during the cold winter will ensure an enjoyable holiday season for all. They will be ever so grateful and may even reward you with a nudge, a sloppy kiss, or even an egg or two.

In case you are baking for friends and family, here are some home-made treats for your dogs for you to try-

Holiday Treats for Doggies and (Occasionally) Humans

Easy to make, even if you never bake! And the kids can help!

Monkey Treats

Suitable for Children, Husbands, or Doggies

Ingredients:

Ripe bananas (any amount)

Quick Oats (enough to make a stiff dough when added to banana mash)

Directions: Mash the ripe banana(s). Add quick oats until mixture has stiff consistency.  Drop by spoonful onto baking sheet that has been lightly greased or covered in parchment paper. Bake at 350 degrees F for about 15 min. Let cool. Store in airtight container/plastic bags.

Squash Drops

(Accidentally eaten by husband, who pronounced “they need sugar”. They don’t.)

Ingredients:

2 ½ cups flour (use oat flour if your dog is sensitive to wheat)

2 small shredded squash or zucchini

2 eggs

Directions:

Mix well. Drop by spoonsful onto a baking sheet that has been lightly greased or covered in parchment paper. Bake at 350 degrees F for about 20 minutes on each side. Let cool. Store in airtight container/plastic bags.

Holiday Doggy Wogs

(Also eaten by husband and declared to be nice crackers)

2 ½ cups flour (use oat if your dog is sensitive to wheat)

½ cup milk

1 t garlic powder

1 large egg beaten

2 T flavoring (i.e. bacon drippings, meat stock, juice from canned tuna)

Directions:

Mix dry ingredients. Mix wet ingredients. Mix together thoroughly and roll out to ¼ inch thickness. Cut out with cookie cutters or slice into squares. Arrange on baking sheet that has been lightly greased or covered in parchment paper. Bake at 350 degrees F for about 30 minutes. Let cool. Store in airtight container/plastic bags.

Shaun Thomas is the “Farmer’s Concierge” at CFC Farm & Home Center in Culpeper. Shaun is your resource for non-traditional farming. Her degree in Biology paired with her passion for bugs, bees, poultry and organic gardening make her your go-to girl for advice on your farm/farmette/market garden.

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