Let me be the first to tell you, I hate winter. I hate it because my body doesn't function well in cold at all and I hate feeling so unpleasant outside. However, for a number of years, I have had a job that requires me to be outside every single day, regardless of the weather conditions. Horses and other animals need care every single day and they aren't particularly concerned with my cold stiff fingers. This is where the PLANNING comes in. I have learned and developed a variety of techniques to avoid being outside in the cold while still efficiently caring for the animals. I have worked on farms with minuscule budgets, and on farms where money is no object, but the thing they all had in common, was that we thoroughly planned for inclement weather and any variety of impetus that may present themselves during chore time.
Here are a few pointers I've picked up along the way:
Water. The real villain of winter is the freezing of our most valuable asset. Access to clean water is of utmost importance for all animals. No matter what your builder/plumber/guru tells you, just assume that all your faucets and spigots will freeze. Assume the worst and plan for it. If you have a heated tack room, unhook all your buckets, fill them up, and put them in the heated tack room, then find an empty trough and fill in up in there too, that way you have accessible water when all the faucets freeze. If your barn is close to your house, fill your bathtubs up the night before a hard freeze so that you can haul water to the barn without filling buckets one by one from the sink. Then fill up every available vessel in your home, jugs, pitchers, buckets, (pro tip- empty kitty litter jugs hold 2.5 gallons of water) and stash them somewhere that is consistently warm. Lots of animals, especially horses, will dehydrate themselves to avoid drinking frigid water, and poultry uses water intake to keep warm, so giving them a little "house warm" water every day prevents a totally unwanted vet call later!
Troughs. The most important, and often most annoying part of cold weather animal care, are frozen water troughs. Not everyone can afford heated auto-waterers in every field, (but by God if you can, GET THEM), and many fields are too remote to even use plug in trough heaters, so good old-fashioned ingenuity goes a long way here in Virginia winters. As therapeutic as breaking up ice with a sledge hammer can be, after about day two, it get's really old. Especially when there are several troughs to do. So, throw away the dumb salt water filled water bottles (they don't work) and get yourself a few rolls of bubble wrap and duct tape. Wrap up those troughs and buckets in bubble wrap and duct tape until your heart is content. While you are at it, wrap the stem of your outdoor water spigots as well. The time and investment it takes to do all of this FAR outweighs hauling water one bucket at a time from your own kitchen.
Then, collect some big rocks bricks, or cinder blocks and clean them off. Bonus points if you use your noggin and realize that here in VA, we have an abundant supply of soapstone, which just so happens to hold heat better than anything out there. Take your stones inside and place them around the edges of your fire in the fireplace, or on top of a woodstove. If you don't have either of those, put them in your grill or even oven and get them hot. Then, carefully remove them from their heat source, put them in a metal bucket or wheelbarrow, haul them out to your troughs, and plop one in at night check, between this and the insulation, your water will take a long time to freeze, even in the low teens to single digits.
Your monetary investment is just the cost of the bubble wrap and tape, and if you order as much stuff online as most of us who live out in the country do, your bubble wrap supply may well already be immense.
Hoses. It doesn't matter how many times you try to empty them, they always freeze. If you have a heated spot in the barn, haul them all in there. If not, throw them in the bathtub or laundry sink in your house. I've even kept them in the trunk of my car in trash bags with extra horse blankets on top of them. Not having a working hose to use your frost-free spigots with is the most annoying thing ever. If you have to sleep in your bed next to the hose to keep it warm, do it.
Forage. You know what NEVER works when it's 9 degrees out and all the horses are out of hay? The tractor. If you depend on your tractor to move round bales to your animals, for the love of God, get it serviced and replace the battery at the end of summer. Check your trickle chargers and the fancy magnet things that keep engines warm etc. If they don't work when it's warm, they surely won't work when it's freezing out. After doing all of that, still assume it won't work and all of your pretty round bales will be safely stuck in the hay barn, while the horses start playing the Hunger Games and have blanket shredding contests while you curse John Deere. So, buy as many square bales as you can afford. Also, buy them in the summer, when the hay is actually growing, and you can easily have them delivered. Guess when hay is the most expensive and hard to find? February. Any hay guy worth his salt will already have sold last years cuttings or have it on hold for his best customers. BE his best customer. Pay him in cash, instantly, bake him things, send his wife flowers... Hay is the ONE most reliable thing that keeps animals warm and fed. You can feed your horse 32 pounds a day of triple platinum legendary equine performance ulti-multi supercharged whatever, but good hay will keep them warm and healthy with far more efficiency. It's super not fun to drag individual bales of hay to your horses through the snow, but it's easier when you put the bales on a cheap plastic sled, and it's still easier and less expensive than treating them for ulcers or paying for colic surgery.
Clothing. We've all heard the crazy ladies on the internet say, "my 32 year old OTTB lives out 24/7 in Montana and it's -17 here and I don't blanket him because the blanket pushes their hair down and then they get cold!" After I swallow my feelings of murderous rage and mumble things about having to pass a basic intelligence test to own a horse, I realize that the best I can do, is make sure MY animals are comfortable. Animals, like humans, all "run" differently. I have a tiny little friend that was raised in Vermont and she gets super grumpy and sweaty when it's like 68 degrees out. I am tall and have a significant protective layer of insulating body fat, and my legs stop working and I just want to go to sleep and die once it gets down to 40. Seventy-four is my ideal outdoor temperature. Needless to say, many horses are different as well. My thoroughbred will stand at the gate with his blanket in his mouth, shivering and looking longingly at those of us with opposable thumbs, while my Standardbred gives me side eye when I come at him with a rain sheet. If your animals are not accustomed to your current weather patterns, watch them even more closely. Dogs, cats, pigs, and horses seems to be the most sensitive to weather changes, especially in combination with humidity changes. Chickens are surprisingly hardy in the cold as long as they are mature and not moulting. Cows and other ruminants seem to have the whole cold thing figured out the best. Old blankets, towels, and even clothes can easily be found at thrift shops and used for bedding for small animals and piggies, while properly fitting and waterproof blankets for horses are a worthwhile investment.
Planning for the worst when it comes to winter weather pays for itself in a cold snap like this. Instead of spending DAYS hauling individual buckets out to the chopped up icy hell that is now your water troughs, you could be warming your rocks by the woodstove for tonight's troughs, while browsing real estate listing for farms in Florida and slathering on the chapstick between sips of bourbon and frantically checking all 11 weather apps on your phone like the rest of us weirdo farm people that do this lifestyle voluntarily.
As one particularly demented farm guy once told me, "There is no bad weather, only bad clothing". Whatever dude.