Animals have miraculous ability to stay warm in cold

Many animals require more food to help them endure the winter months. As they ingest food, heat is generated from fat stored in their bodies. My horses will stand close together to share warmth and use the barn as a shield from wind.

This rabbit, which has burrowed for the winter in a nearby irrigation pipe, found little in the way of food on a freezing cold day.



Going out to feed the horses on a frigid December morning, I saw crystallized icicles clinging to my mare’s whiskers.

Her quiet neigh resonated through the crisp stillness as she greeted the dawn of a new day. Persistent nickering followed as I scraped the snow off the buried haystack.

With faces nestled in their morning feed, the horses’ satisfied munching was the only sound as the sun rose from behind the snow-packed mountains.

Pausing a moment to survey the beauty before me, I caught sight of a rabbit emerging from one end of an exposed irrigation pipe. Nose twitching, he was undoubtedly searching for any semblance of forage in the frozen tundra.

I watched him scurry about for quite some time, but it was evident he was not to find breakfast this morning. Eventually, he returned to his burrow in the pipe.

Upon entering the barn, the chickens began clucking, letting me know they had survived another frigid night. Snow had blown in from the north, delivering a large drift in front of the door. As I a shoveled a path to their straw-laden enclosure, the hens squawked in disapproval of the cold, white blanket that covered the landscape. Normally, the girls love to get out during the day to explore, but on this morning they simply peered out the door, reluctant to step on the frosty ground.

A flurry of tiny sparrows emerged from the coop, my presence disrupting their refuge under the heat lamp. As I checked the de-icing devices in all the water containers, the chattering of the sparrows escalated to a frenzy of disapproval at my intrusion.

The outside temperature read 9 degrees as I made my way back to the house. As I removed the multitude of layers of clothing, I contemplated the animals’ miraculous ability to keep warm despite frigid temperatures. How do they survive? Do they feel cold the way we do? What keeps them from freezing to death?

Nature provides animals with thick winter coats that help protect them from the elements. Birds develop a thicker, downy layer of feathers to shield them. How those dainty little feathers keep the birds warm, however, is beyond me.

Many animals require more food to help them endure the winter months. As they ingest food, heat is generated from fat stored in their bodies. Winter weight, which is not appealing to most humans, is a necessity for outdoor animals to survive.

If you have outdoor animals, there are some steps you can take to help them maintain adequate body heat.

Providing a shelter will give them refuge from bitter winds and snow accumulation. Bigger is not always better, as a large area is hard to heat. Often my horses will stand close together, sharing warmth from their bodies. I’ve also noticed they will position themselves on different sides of the barn, depending on which direction the wind is blowing.

As this is my first year of raising chickens, I have been quite concerned how they would survive the cold. The chicken coop is lined with bales of straw for insulation. A layer of plywood on the floor covered with loose straw keeps the cold from penetrating from the ground. During frigid night temperatures, I keep the heat lamp on. However, veteran chicken raisers tell me it is not necessary. I just don’t want my girls to freeze.

Provide plenty of food for all your outdoor animals. My horses love this time of year, as there is always an adequate supply of hay. I always give them extra at night to get them through the chilly early morning hours. The chicken food seems to be depleted every day, but I know they are sharing it with the birds that inhabit the barn.

If I knew what the little bunny in the irrigation pipe would eat, I’d probably feed him too. Maybe I’ll take him some hay.

Make sure your animals have clean, fresh water. After several days of chopping ice, I decided to invest in heaters for the water containers. They are temperature controlled and come on when the water begins to freeze. They are a bit pricey, but it was worth the peace of mind.

I know that nature provides for our outdoor animals in its own way. As responsible caretakers of these creatures, however, we must do our part to ensure their well-being.

No matter what time of year, but especially during cold winter months, it is imperative to take protective measures to guarantee their continued existence.

Charlé Thibodeau is a veterinary technician for Aspentree Veterinary Care. If you have a pets question you would like Thibodeau to answer in her column, email .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address).

ALMA CENTER, Wis. — A Wisconsin couple says fire clucks, not fire trucks, helped them escape a blaze at their home.

Alma Center Fire Chief Jeff Gaede says the couple’s pet chicken woke them at about 6:15 a.m. Thursday.

He says the smoke alarms didn’t go off when the fire started in the attic of their attached garage.

He says the chicken and a cat also escaped, but another cat died.

Neighbor Brad Krueger told WEAU-TV that he raised the chicken on his farm until dogs chased it away. The couple then started caring for it.

Gaede says he’s heard of dogs and cats alerting people to fires but he was amazed to hear about the chicken.

The fire destroyed the house. The cause is still being investigated.


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