Keeping Humans, Pets, and the Flock Warm Through the Cold and Snowy Season – Part 1
If you’re going to spend time outdoors (or even indoors!) in the winter, proper clothing and equipment is the key to making it more enjoyable for the whole family! For me, enjoying that fresh air makes winter far more tolerable. There are times when it’s cold, or during a big snowstorm, that we don’t venture out, but I can only take so many days of that before it’s not just our Lab mix Luke that gets restless and fidgety.
When we are stuck in the house, having the wood stove to snuggle in front of makes it so much cozier. I also love that our house has a lot of windows, and two sets of glass doors in our living room. I need all the light I can get too! We’ve been so excited lately since we’ve been noticing the days getting just a bit longer. It makes all the difference in the world.
We wanted to share a few things that make life in the northeast more enjoyable in the winter months. Once I started working on our lists, I realized it’s a lot! Therefore, we’re splitting this into two parts: animals and humans (my list is surprisingly long). *Disclosure: This post contains some affiliate links. We may receive a small commission if you order through those links. Thank you!*
Finding the Right Clothing, Gear and Comforts for Cats, Dogs, and Birds Through Our Long New England Winters
Samantha is an indoor cat anyway, though we do take her out for “field trips” in the nice weather. I may even try taking her out some warmer winter day just to see how she likes it. She doesn’t have a lot of needs to get through the cooler days, since she has her own long fur coat which helps. She has her “fort” – her Smiling Paws Pets Cat Cube*, which you’ve seen often here on the blog, since it’s her favorite hangout; but she also loves to sit in her huge windows and feel the sun warm her fur. (You can read our full review of the 2-in-1 bed by clicking here.)
In the morning and evenings, you might also see her lying in front of the heat vent on the floor – I put a bed there for her so she could be comfy. While in the spring and summer, she likes to venture upstairs (especially when we’re raising chicks up there), in the winter we keep it closed off. We had left the door slightly ajar for her, but we noticed she was never going up there anyway (I think because it was so much colder up there) so decided it would save on our heating bill to keep it completely closed. She hasn’t even noticed I don’t think! In the spring and summer, it’s warmer up there and I think that’s part of the reason she loves it.
I think she really enjoys her cozy spaces and knowing exactly where everything is, since her eyesight is very limited. As long as she can find her way from warm spot to warm spot (and to her food of course!), she seems pretty content!
When we had dogs with thick coats, it was much easier! I never had to worry about buying coats or anything to keep our beagles or golden retrievers warm. Labrador retriever mix Luke, however, has a very thin coat of fur, especially underneath, so once the temperatures get below 45- 50 degrees or so, he wears a coat and sometimes sweaters.
We have two favorites that we’ve been using for several winters now: his Hurtta Summit Parka*, and his GoldPaw Series Portland Pullover*. Each has their own uses. Luke wears the parka, which gives a lot of coverage (I call it a snowsuit for dogs), and keeps him quite warm and dry, either when the temperatures are well below freezing, or when we’re out in a hard snowstorm.
If it’s not quite as cold out, the fleece Portland Pullover is a bit lighter, still gives much-needed coverage over his belly, and has a water-resistant panel on the back. We’ll still get that out if it’s just a light snowstorm or chilly rainy day.
Both coats are easy to put on and off, machine washable, and can be worn with a harness. The harness goes over the Portland Pullover, and under the Summit Parka (there’s a convenient hole for the harness loop). You can read our full review of the fleece jacket by clicking here. Also, both coats are holding up quite well, and neither is even close to needing replacement yet. That speaks to their quality.
We use the Portland Pullover more, simply because if it gets much below 20 degrees out, Luke’s paws get too cold when we walk, so we don’t go out as much when it’s that cold. I wish I could get him to wear boots like we used to have for Cricket, but Luke just doesn’t tolerate any paw handling at all (trust me, we’ve tried everything). If you are interested in dog boots, I did write a post about some we tried and had success with for our beagle Cricket – “The Search for All-Weather Durable Dog Boots”.
Another thing we have to think about in the winter is how to keep Luke entertained when we’re stuck indoors. We’ve written about nose works games, setting up our tunnel* in the house, and other treat-dispensing puzzles that we’ve tried. A year ago I wrote a post “Indoor Fun & Games for Dogs” which talks about a few of them. I won’t repeat myself, but I will say that the Paw5 Snuffle Mat* is my favorite indoor game for Luke.
First, he really loves using his nose and getting right down into that mat! Second, it actually takes him longer than some of the easier puzzle games we have; and third, I can just set it up for him and I don’t have to supervise him to make sure he’s not having trouble. I still usually watch him because it’s fun, but if I have work to do, I can just leave him at it.
Winter can be a great time to work on training or tricks, and I just signed us up for a new class at Fenzi Dog Sports Academy. We’ll be telling you more about the class we’re taking once we get started with it. They offer so many different classes there for scent sports, agility, behavior, health & fitness and more. I’m excited about getting back to work with Luke on something since I’ve really slacked on training lately, and we’ve badly needed something more to do with the rough weather we’ve been having lately.
The Flock of Farm Birds
Last winter was our first one with our chickens and guinea hens, and it was a learning process. We did some research and found the best way to keep the coop warmer in the winter is to use the “deep litter” method. Instead of cleaning the coop in the winter, we put a thick layer of straw and dried leaves down, stir it up daily, and add to it every so often. This serves two purposes: the bird droppings added to all this break down along with the straw and leaves, and that process is creating a layer of compost underneath. That process generates heat, and the end result is a whole lot of compost to use in next year’s garden!! We keep a thermometer in the coop and for most of the winter it’s at leas 5 -10 degrees warmer in there than outside. It’s also nice to not have to be out in the cold weather cleaning the coop out completely!
It is not recommended to heat the coop. For one thing, heat lamps are fire hazards (and the way our crazy birds fly around in there? Oh yeah.). The other thing is that if the power suddenly went out and you couldn’t keep the coop warm any longer, it would be too sudden for the birds (that might work if you only have a few, but I don’t think we could bring 28 birds indoors!). By letting them just get used to the cold naturally as the season progresses, they can handle it. They don’t love it, that’s for sure, but they make the best of it!
The other challenge is keeping their water from freezing. In the beginning, we changed their water out twice a day, keeping one waterer in the house to thaw. Wow, that got old quickly. We found out that a heated dog water dish* could work, and it worked great. They did knock it over sometimes though (we had it setting on a bucket so it would be the right height for them), so this year we got a heated metal base* and keep our metal waterer* on it and that also works well. So far they’ve only knocked that over once! We keep the dog dish in the garage so they have water when they’re hanging out in there, without having to walk back to the coop for it. Water is important for egg production, so we want to make it easy for them to drink all they need.
The birds enjoy the warmth of the sun, and letting them free range so they can go to our front porch to sit in it makes them very happy. They also can stay out of the weather, but have more room to roam in the garage and barn. The garage is roomier, and they found the bale of straw we keep in there; they pulled it out and spread it around themselves! It was funny last year when the Dadz asked me if I had spread the straw in the garage! We both thought the other did it, and it was the birds themselves!
I also make them special treats in the winter. A lot of people buy “scratch grains” since giving them extra carbohydrates can help them keep warmer in the winter. I prefer to just make homemade suet, with lots of seeds, herbs, and fats. I also occasionally make them warm oatmeal (with cinnamon), give them a can of organic corn, and we’re now also fermenting their feed once a week or so which is very healthy for them. Just like dogs and cats, they love their treats and it makes them very happy! The Dadz also gets leftover fruits, vegetables, and bread from his work which they enjoy year-round. Stay tuned for my recipe for suet coming soon; this can be used for wild birds as well and it’s pretty simple to make.
It sure seems like a lot of work sometimes staying comfortable while taking care of the farm during our long New England winters! Stay tuned for Part 2 of our series where I’ll share my long list of clothing and gear to keep me warm – and upright – when we’re out in the unavoidable cold, snow, and ice!
What is your favorite product for keeping your pets happy in the winter?