Tuesday, January 04, 2011

Winter Musings

Animals Outdoors

People often ask me how my horses are doing in "this weather"--whatever the weather may be.  I usually tell them, "Oh, they're OK. They are outdoor animals. They're used to it."

And truth be told, they are. The Boys are wearing blankets now, but if I hadn't started sheeting them early on, they'd probably be just fine without.  If they were in the wild somewhere, I'm guessing they'd be OK too, provided there were a supply of food and water adequate to keep them alive.

Here, they have plenty of water--in a heated trough, lots of hay for forage, and a scientifically blended pellet feed three times a day.  Oh, yes, they also get wormed on a daily wormer, and have complete access to three run-in shed areas and three box stalls.  Not exactly the Taj Mahal, but more than enough shelter from the wind and weather.

There are people with horses in heated barns and indoor arenas.  Nice for the people, but not as good--at least in my mind--for the horses. After all, they are "outdoor animals."  Somehow it seems contradictory to try to create an artificial indoor environment for them.

But that's just my opinion.

I was thinking of that in regard to the stray kitty. I finally saw him/her this morning, snuggled up on a bale of hay in the carport.  I put canned and dry cat food out there every day, so it's a good spot to hang out.  I'm not sure, though, who was eating the food when I glanced in later. I think it might have been Mommycat. It's not well lit in there. Mommycat is a dark striped tabby and the little stray is solid black with just a tiny white spot on the chest. The eating cat seemed to have lighter colored ears, so it may have been Mommy.  I'll put some more food out later, just to cover all bases.

But there's a little furry creature adapting and taking advantage of shelter and food where it can be found. Cats are indoor/outdoor animals in my mind. I know they are essentially predators, bred from outdoor lineage, but they certainly do happily adapt to staying inside out of the weather, provided they have food and entertainment to keep their instincts appeased.

I put some nuts and peanut butter crackers out for the squirrel that lives in the tree right here by the house. Squirrels, definitely outdoor animals adapt to nature's whims as well.  Squirrels do not hibernate in the winter, but they do spend days sequestered in their nests when the weather's bad.  I saw the squirrel out yesterday, so I put out some food. I was gone this morning, so I put out more.

That's when some more "outdoor animals" showed up to take advantage--the blue jays.  I've seen few birds with more of an instinct for self-preservation. In the human world, we'd consider them selfish. They arrive at the feeding station, dominate all the other birds and eat their fill.  Here, about five of them showed up to make short work of the nuts I'd put out.  And yet, though the squirrel will be deprived, I have to admire the jays. They are a perfect example of a successful "outdoor animal," ready, willing, and able to exploit the situation to their own advantage.

As I write, they've just come back for a second round at the crackers. I only mention it, because they chased away another rival, a redheaded woodpecker.  I think the woodpecker had eaten some of the bounty before climbing up the tree to just sit there for a while. (Sorry, not the best picture, but I took it through a window screen.)   I certainly could go on about how well the woodpecker has adapted to its life as an "outdoor animal"--just look at how easily it sits on the tree--but the jays are more to the point.  They simply seize the opportunity to make their lives better and the heck with everyone else.

How different the animal world is from all the lessons we humans are taught about society.  Then again, unlike the "outdoor animals" that don't usually need each other to fend for themselves, we do. Without artificial heat, clothing, and shelter, we'd freeze to death out there in a matter of hours.  In essence, we're pretty inadequately adapted to nature's whims.

Animals--outdoor animals?  Simply amazing.


  1. Anonymous11:03 AM

    We have a big skunk issue with outdoor cat food - at the barn we keep it up on a table and that seems to deter the skunks, although for a while someone (raccoon?) was getting up there at night and cleaning things out.

    My kitties at home all are indoor only to keep down the bird predation, and to improve their survival odds with our coyote, great horned owl and auto populations - I'd guess autos are one of the biggest predators of wild animals!

  2. I always get questions about the horses during winter. People just can't believe that they don't get cold out there. I usually just tell them that humans are adapted to hot, equatorial regions, we tend to get cold easily. Horses are adapted to cold areas. They suffer much more in the heat than they do in the cold.

    I have a jay that lives in the pear tree out front. When the starlings show up he goes crazy chasing them off. He's out-numbered by the hundreds, but he still manges to give them a run! Tenacious little fellow!

  3. Our horses are definitely considered outdoor animals. We haven't really blanketed much except in high winds or rain/snow. They have the fuzziest warmest coats that keep them warm and they prefer to think they are the"wild
    bunch". Sometimes a few of them even refuse to come in at night.

    I'm not comfortable with heated barns or even closed up tight barns. We always leave their windows open a crack and the big doors at the end too for ventilation. Otherwise it's very unhealthy for their respiratory systems. Some may not agree with us but that's the way we feel.

    As for all your other outdoor animals, I'd say the birds are the champs at adapting. I can't believe they don't freeze to death with their little bodies.

  4. i always reckon rugs are really to keep the mud off and appease us - horses well fed and watered will keep themselves warm, if left in their full coat - we don't do that because we want to be able to ride etc.....

  5. I've never seen as many dogs in winter coats as the embarrassed canines that walk the streets of California. Today I saw a full-furred Tibetan terrier in a long sleeved pink hoodie! Is this a niche market that needs to be filled for horses?

  6. It always cracks me up when people ask about our horses being outside in the winter. We've even had people remark that we were "abusing" our horses for having them out when its under 20 degrees. People don't understand that the horse is much warmer than a human, and are really designed for living in the elements..with the exception of show horses that are kept in all year long under lights. I didn't even put a blanket on Cruizer this year until it snowed, and he was fine. People tend to think that horses want the same things we want, a toasty hot "house" where they can stay inside all day.

  7. If my mare was not clipped, I would not bother with a rug, as long as the horses have enough food and long hairs, they are fine with the cold.
    I am more worried about the heat we have here.