Unusual Winter Extra Hard on Small Farm Animals

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Since this is the home of Groundhog Day it is only fitting that I post a winter weather-related story about this unusually bad year.

We expect rough winters here in the hills of Western Pennsylvania and this isn’t the worst we’ve ever seen, but it has been relentlessly bad this year and that is unusual.

Although sheep are naturally armored against cold weather, this year’s unrelenting snow and below-normal temperatures are putting stress on adult sheep and especially newborn lambs.

lamb
4 dayold Jacob lamb in January, 2010

This little 4 day-old lamb follows its mother and twin brother through 3-4 ft. of snow as the mothers follow along behind the rest of the flock which, in turn, follows the miniature horses and donkeys who make the daily walk from their barn down a steep hill to the pond and back up to the feeding station.

Jacobrams
Yearold Jacob Rams. This is what the little guy will look like by next fall. They are standing in an area tramped down by the other animals at the feeding station.

The sheep pictured are rare horned Jacob sheep, an unimproved older breed which is better able to deal with unusual conditions than the highly inbred animals often seen on today’s farms and universally found on factory farms.

Topram
The older 4horned Jacob ram is sire to most of the others and takes his favorite king-of-the-hill place on a fresh 1100 lb. hay bale.

The lead Jacob ram is usually first through the snow following the donkeys and gets his favorite place on top of the fresh hay.

choice
The horses don’t stand much taller than the sheep but weigh about 200 lbs more so they take the lead through heavy snow. The horses also guard the flock against coyote. These two stallions are full grown adult American miniature horses (mini horses are smaller than ponies.)

The miniature horses are usually followed through the snow by miniature donkeys. Both are raised as pets, companion animals for other horses, and flock guardians.

donks
Two of the miniature donkeys with a Jacob ewe in the foreground. The donkeys are about 30 inches tall.

Horses and other flock animals are happier if they have companions so people who want one horse for riding will often keep a miniature horse or mini donkey as a companion which eats far less than a second full-size horse would use.

donklam
These two mini donks are about 30 inches tall and one of the twin lambs is visible behind them. The horses, sheep, and donkeys all get along but usually separate into groups in good weather.

With a solid cover of snow here in West Central PA since well before Xmas some ranchers are already concerned about whether they will have enough feed stored for their animals.

These rugged sheep and minis are normally digging through thin snow cover and eating from the pasture most day’s right into the middle of January – this year they have been eating stored hay exclusively since mid-December.

Since this is Punxsutawney and I’ve met Phil many times, I expect to have a long discussion with Phil the next time I make it into town.

For those who don’t remember, Phil is THE groundhog of Groundhog Day fame and Punxsutawney is his home. He lives most of the year just off the Children’s section of the town library but is taken to Gobbler’s Knob every February to warn us whether we will have a long winter or can expect an early Spring.

Contact John through NewsBlaze.

John McCormick is a reporter, /science/medical columnist and finance and social commentator, with 17,000+ bylined stories. He is a 38-year member of the National Press Club, retired emergency management coordinator, physicist, and member of the AAAS. He is a senior NewsBlaze writer who writes incisive, investigative stories.