Thursday, January 30, 2014

Eating for heating!

Having so many farm animals at the farm winter can be tough. Not only hard on Farmer Pat who does all the chores but on the animals too. Calf coats are placed on the calves in the barn. The sheep...well, they are covered in a wool coat that anyone would envy. But I often wondered and was concerned for the goats. What kept them warm? You can see a winter coat of hair that looks thicker than what you see during the summer, but it never looked thick enough to keep them warm during the harsh WI winters....until I read
Meghan Leonard blog.

I found her story so interesting I reposted here for you to learn as I did, that goats eat for heating! Enjoy.

As the nighttime temperatures remain low throughout much of the country, I have to pause and compare my winter wardrobe to my goats’.  I go all-out for morning chores: insulated coat, thermal underclothes, denim jeans, t-shirt, sweatshirt, long scarf, open-finger gloves and knit hat. My goats meet me at the gate dressed in their fluffiest hair, and…wait… just fluffy hair! And I still have the nerve to complain about the cold!

Goats are able to generate amazing amounts of heat to withstand the cold, due to the amazing design of their digestive system.  They have four stomachs, which is not exactly breaking news. But the process in the rumen, the largest of the stomachs, is fascinating and understanding the process can help us to keep our caprine friends warm all winter.

It is a basic tenet of goat nutrition that they need plenty of roughage – mostly hay in cold weather.  The hay has cell walls made of cellulose, and it’s the fermentation and breakdown of that cellulose that provides the fuel for the goat’s internal furnace.  When hay is put into the manger, the goats eat the hay quickly, but don’t really chew it well enough to turn it into heat.  This is where the amazing adult goat rumen comes into play, since as the goat finishes eating; the real “hot” work begins.

As hay enters the goat’s rumen, it settles in layers.  The bottom layer is the softened hay from yesterday (and the grain from today).  The middle layer is today’s hay, and at the top is gas.  The gas is created by fermentation from tiny microbes that live in the goat’s rumen.  These microbes start anaerobically digesting the cellulose from hay in the bottom and middle layers, which releases gas, plus begins generating heat for the goat to stay warm.

Now, we all know the goat can’t keep the gas, or it will bloat.  Nature handles this with the contractions of the rumen, which causes a bolus of softened hay (cud) to come back up the goat’s esophagus via a burp, and into the mouth for re-chewing.  When the “cud chewing” begins, the gas is also released.  According to a study by Colorado State University, up to 5 liters of gas are released by a goat in an hour of cud chewing!

Once the goat chews the cud and re-swallows it, the microbes continue working on the cellulose again.  These microbes are delicately balanced in the rumen, which is why all feed changes need to be done slowly, so microbe development can keep pace.  Most of the work is actually completed by the microbes, and without them the goat can’t keep warm.  The heat from the rumen’s fermentation can actually be compared to the breakdown in a compost pile and the high heat generated from it!  This is why many goat keepers advocate an endless supply of hay in the winter, since without adequate roughage the goat’s internal furnace will not function correctly.

Once again, this noble creature shows us humans a thing or two about efficiency.  Now if only I could get all the comfort food I eat in the winter to work as an internal furnace!

Meghan Leonard

Meghan Leonard is a veterinary medical technology student, leading to vet school. She lives and learns at her barnyard in southcentral PA, where books and practical goat experience combine.

Visit Meghan's blog at:

Sunday, January 5, 2014

Keep Your Pets Safe in the Cold

Winter on the farm can be beautiful. As well as in your own back yard.  That is, when we are on the inside looking out. Outside it's brrrrr....

So remember your pets when sending them outdoors with the helpful reminders below.

·       Just because your dog has fur, it does not mean they can withstand the cold.

·       LadyBug, Mulberry Lane Farm’s 3 year old Springer Spaniel is bred to be an outdoor dog and can handle the cold weather much better than say a Yorkshire Terrier. A doggie sweater is an excellent idea for small dogs or dogs with little to no hair.

·       Just because your dog has a sweater on doesn’t mean they can be outside for extended periods of time. Dogs lose most of their body heat from the pads of their feet, their ears, and their respiratory tract.

·       Watch those feet! Your pet can get salt, ice, and chemical ice treatments caught in their footpads. To minimize damage to their paws, wipe them with a warm cloth when they come inside.

·       Cats too need extra care in the winter. Wind chill affects our pets just as it does people. Provide an enclosed area lined with straw or blankets for your outdoor pet.

·       Heated dog beds can be used to keep your outdoor dog warm. For both dogs and cats, heated bowls keep water and food from freezing.

·       Exercising your pet in winter is very important. In the cold, it is best to walk your dog more often for shorter periods of time. OR, consider a day per week at your local doggie day care. There they have an indoor play area and great socialization.


·       Beware of antifreeze - It is highly toxic! Antifreeze tastes good to pets, but even a small amount can kill your pet.

·       Do not allow your dog to run across frozen bodies of water. Just as it’s not wise for you to walk onto iced over bodies of water. It too is dangerous for your dog.

·       During the winter, cats sometimes sleep under the hood of your car or in the garage where it is warm and comfortable. Before you turn your engine on, check beneath the car or make a lot of noise by honking the horn or rapping on the hood.

Fun Fact.

·       Did you know that your dog and cat's normal temperature (100.5-102.5) is a few degrees higher than yours? (97.8-99.1) Winter is the perfect time of year to snuggle up – so have fun and stay warm!

·       Be a responsible pet owner. Be sure to have your pet spayed or neutered!  

petting farm, petting zoo, Mulberry Lane Farm,