150 Animals, Winter Chores in Under 30 Minutes

When talking about the animals we raise, I often hear, “How do you do it all?”  I’m startled at that question, because the reality is there isn’t much to do, so I thought maybe it would help to take you on a walk through my daily chores.  As much as possible, I try to automate systems.  Like most of us, I have a lot going on with homeschooling, house-wifing and small farming, so anything I can be hands off with is a help.

These photos were taken today.  The average time to feed and care for all the animals on the property is under 30 minutes, with bursts of activity once per week for feeding hay.  High capacity feeders are the key to sanity.

Even with the time spent moving hay once per week, we still average under 30 minutes per day.  Here’s how.

Pigs

At the end of the day before, I will have filled up a bucket of grains to bring in the house for overnight soaking for the pigs.  I mix peas, oats, barley and kelp together, pour hot water over it and let it soak.  To begin my daily chores, I take this bucket out and, at present, dump it on the ground.  The pigs will root up the ground a bit, softening the top layer before I move the goats’ hay feeder over it.  This system gives us a deep mulch planting area for the garden in spring.  When snow falls, I’ll move their grain to a feeder and lose the benefit of churned up ground.

This is also the time I stop and look over the herd.  It’s important to observe everyone daily for any changes that could indicate illness or injury.  I can also observe heat cycles then (today was Wish’s turn!).

Goats

Right next to where I feed the pigs grain, I have a hay feeder set up for the goats.  Rob and I fill this up on the weekend when he’s home to help.  I intentionally made this feeder with waste in mind.  The goats will waste a lot, but the pigs will clean up the best of it and the rest will be left as deep mulch.  Feeding once a week is a big timesaver, especially as snow comes.

From the feeding area, I walk through the garden and up to the goats’ shelter, which is where I feed some of the dogs.  I check the goat mineral feeder and top off as needed with a lidded 5-gallon bucket I keep right next to the shelter.  This deeply bedded shelter is what they get for winter.  We don’t use heat lamps, lights or any other additions.  I’ve found that feeding them outside of their shelter helps them develop the thick coats that will keep them warm through the coldest temperatures.  You can see how thick their coats are here; they’ll do well this winter.

Dogs

We have four LGDs on pasture right now.  For the adults, we built a feeding station last year that we continue to use now.  While we were feeding all raw for the first half of the year, we decided, regretfully, to go back to a kibble/raw combo until we can ramp up production of meat here on-farm.  This saves a tremendous amount of time but I miss feeding them food I felt good about.

The adults have a 25-pound autofeeder that we fill up every 1-2 weeks.  I walk right by this on my way to the pigs so I simply check it and go back later to fill up if needed.  Whenever we have raw, we put it in this feeding station so the dogs can eat without pressure from the pigs, who also like any kind of meat.

The puppies are too small to jump through the jump gate access for the feeding station, so I have a 5-gallon bucket of kibble out at the goats’ shelter in a separate enclosure we use for young goat kids in the spring with a hole too small for the goats.  I fill this up daily, bringing the bucket back home with me when it’s empty and carting it out the next day.  It currently lasts 5-6 days.  When I can spare the funds for such a luxury, I’ll put another autofeeder over on this side because the pups have several months still before they can get into the feeding station.  I love being able to fill it and leave it for a week at a time.  My thinking is always first that everyone should be able to survive for a few days if something happened to us and second that less time spent feeding is more time spent improving elsewhere.

Rabbits

I walk right by the rabbits on my way from the goat shelter, still carrying the pigs’ grain bucket, so I fill it with water and stop in at the rabbits.  (As an aside, all other animals water from the creek year round, which is a blessing and huge timesaver.)  Here we feed hay once per week as well, leaving the strings on so the bales stay tight and clean until they dig into them.  Just now we’ve begun experimenting with putting several bales in.  They eat about 3/4 of a bale per week, so this should give them 1-2 months.  I’d actually like to put 6 more bales in and see if we can get past snow season without lugging bales, but this is where we ended up.

We also feed free choice grain to the rabbits, so I have a garbage can right outside their enclosure to top off as needed, which is a couple times per week.  I check their kelp daily and bring some back on my way back to the house from the barn if they’re low, about once per week.  Since I’m already traveling to and from, this takes very little additional time.

Poultry

Chicken feeders are one of the areas we’ve saved the most time.  I use garbage cans, each filled with a different whole grain, to feed my flock 1-2 times per year.  I pop into the coop every couple of days to make sure everything is okay, but the hens lay in the barn so I don’t need to do anything while I’m there.

I feed the ducks at the barn, since they won’t stop eating grain if it’s free choice, little buggers.  I’m already going to the barn to refill the pigs’ bucket and check on the goat bucks, the only animals who actually live at the barn.

While I’m filling up the pigs’ bucket, I fill up another with grain for the ducks and a small amount to throw to the bucks.  The ducks wait outside the barn and I just toss it, though we’re talking about putting a gutter or PVC pipe feeder right outside to keep it up off the ground.

I also collect eggs while I’m in the barn, or send kids out to collect later in the day if I get to chores too early.

Cats

We have several barn cats.  They are good mousers but we also feed them free choice cat food.  Chickens, skunks and raccoons also appreciate cat food, so we devised an everything-but-cat-proof feeder from a wire dog crate, a cat door from Amazon and a scrap piece of plywood.  This crate is raised up to counter level on an existing table we had out in the barn.  Once a month, we drop in a new bag, cut the top open and walk away.  The only trouble we’ve ever had with this system is this last summer when we switched to Kirkland cat food, which is evidently higher quality than any other brand we’ve used because it attracted the bees in swarms.  We set up a bee trap right there to help cut down on bees.

The cats are the last stop on the route, unless rabbits needed kelp.  Then it’s on back to the house to begin soaking the pig feed and drop off the eggs.

So there you have it, 150 +/- animals fed and cared for in under 30 minutes.  Care to share your routine?  I’d love to hear about it!

 

 

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