It’s chilly out! With winter still holding fast in most of the country, many of us are focused on staying warm, cozy, and comfortable. While that’s always a good thing, if you’re lucky enough to have a warm place to stay and some outside space to call your own you might want to think about supporting and caring for the animals around you in cold weather. Likewise, if you have pets of your own you probably want to take steps to help them stay just as warm and comfy as you are when enjoying the winter weather. Caring for animals in cold weather isn’t necessarily difficult and can make life a lot easier for the creatures we share our gardens with, so let’s dig in!
We’ve written before about making your garden a bird-friendly space, so it makes sense for us to start there. If you’ve been feeding the birds throughout the warmer months, consider keeping that up over the course of the winter. Birds can benefit from regular, reliable sources of food and water throughout the colder months as well as in the spring and summer, and they bring life and vibrancy to your winter garden. While the food your normally offer is just fine for winter feeding too, consider offering a more fat-rich food like suet (found in your supermarket’s meat section) or peanuts. You can also make a winter bird food with peanut butter and a few other basic ingredients, which can be a fun winter garden project to do with your children. Regular fresh water is a must, so make sure that your bird-watering station hasn’t frozen over!
If you’re lucky enough to have outdoor animals or livestock—chickens, cows, goats, horses, or the like—you’ll want to ensure that they’re well cared for during winter weather. This starts by ensuring that they have draft-free, well insulated, weatherproof shelters to sleep in, and safe outdoor spaces during the day. While this will vary depending on the type of animal, clean thick bedding, a steady supply of food and fresh water (make sure it doesn’t freeze!), and good shelter are must-haves for any species. Most livestock will require more calories and more protein during cold weather, so adjust their feed accordingly. For poultry like chickens, keeping them dry is doubly important, as is providing supplemental heat. All livestock may benefit from having a heated shelter at night, but it’s a must for chickens if the weather gets too cold.
Finally, let’s talk about pets! Dogs and cats are wonderful companions, but they do need extra attention when the temperatures drop. Like livestock, active dogs may need additional calories and protein when it’s cold. However, sedentary indoor dogs may need their caloric intake monitored a bit so they don’t put on weight during winter months spent indoors. Dogs and cats also need appropriate shelter during freezing or rainy weather, so bring outdoor pets inside if the temperature drops or the weather turns nasty. If you have feral or stray cats living nearby, consider creating some simple shelters for them in wintertime. For all pets, know the signs of hypothermia and frostbite and how to treat them. And if at all possible, come to the rescue of stray or feral dogs and cats that get in trouble in the cold. It’s a small kindness that makes a big difference in the world.
Winter can be beautiful, but it can also be cruel to outdoor animals. By taking a few steps to make your home and garden supportive and safe places for animals of all kinds, you’ll further engage with the natural world around us, keep your pets and animals healthy and happy, and make the world a kinder, better place.