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Will ducks or geese eat snow to stay hydrated?

 
S Haze
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Location: Southern Minnesota, USA, zone 4/5
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The title of this thread is the question I'd like to know an answer to. I'm reading a book about raising grass fed beef by Julius Ruechel which to me as someone who knew very little about raising cattle seems like an seems like it has about everything I need to know in it about the topic. In the book the author claims that in the winter letting the cows eat snow is far superior to trying to provide water to them in other ways. I'm wondering if anyone knows if this would work with waterfowl as well. I suspect that they should really have some liquid water available at all times so I'm hesitant to experiment.
Thanks!
 
d.a. vatalaro
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Location: Zone 8b, semi-arid
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S Haze wrote: I suspect that they should really have some liquid water available at all times so I'm hesitant to experiment.
Thanks!


You're right - waterfowl need liquid water, and not just for drinking. According to Dave Holderread (author of "The Book of Geese"), geese specifically need to be able to dunk their heads to clear out sinuses and eyes.
 
S Haze
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Darn! I was afraid this was so. But if anyone has experience to the contrary I'd like to hear about it. Since they are migratory birds this makes sense and I don't want to force them to live un-naturally and create more problems.

I'm always looking for ways to be less involved in the daily care of the animals if nature can do the work better than I can.
 
d.a. vatalaro
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S Haze wrote:I'm always looking for ways to be less involved in the daily care of the animals if nature can do the work better than I can.


I hear you. The thing I've noticed with the majority of domesticated animals, however, is that much of the "street smarts" has been bred out of them, mostly to ensure they stay docile and tractable. Take chickens, for example. I have a few that are terrific foragers, but the rest would have difficulty hunting enough food every day. And, of course, our geese and ducks don't go anywhere during the seasonal changes. Regular dairy cattle wouldn't know what the hell to do with themselves if left on their own, although one nature show supposed that Texas Longhorns would probably survive fine if people suddenly disappeared. So if you haven't already, keep that in mind when it comes to livestock considerations. Best of luck to you!
 
David Hartley
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FYI: eating snow will dehydrate you (and animals). It requires massive calories to turn snow to liquid and then bring it up to body temperature for assimilation. Far more than you get from it.
 
S Haze
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d.a. vatalaro:

About selecting the right breeds, I hear you there. Although I will add that in my opinion when animals are raised by their mommies and daddies in can make a HUGE difference in how well adapted they are in a system that's more in line with nature. Example; When I got an incubator I was excited to try it out so I hatched some eggs in the middle of the winter and when the birds were about 1/2 grown they were placed in a chicken tractor out in a mostly dark garage. (for the record, I think this was the WRONG thing to do and don't recommend it!) Once they could finally get out in the spring, compared to the rest of the chickens they were like the "special" ones and mostly hung around the barn with dumb looks on their faces making weird squawking sounds. When I tell people this story I compare the chickens to the poor kid you might hear about on the news who was locked in a closet until he was twelve, probably damaged for life.

FYI: eating snow will dehydrate you (and animals). It requires massive calories to turn snow to liquid and then bring it up to body temperature for assimilation. Far more than you get from it.


I think generally you're right but maybe not always or with every species of critter. The author of the cattle raising book mentioned above lives in the Yukon territory of Canada and claims snow is better for his cows than liquid water because by eating small amounts over a longer time it chills their cores less than drinking a bunch of cold water all at once. For me, right now, this is only in a book and not from my own experience. But because I'm very impressed by this book, the level of detail is very high, and the author's climate gets very cold, for now I'll believe it.
 
Landon Sunrich
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We just had a week long frozen snap here in Washington. I had to turn water off to the whole of the property so that the lines wouldn't all freeze and burst. The geese hacked it on the little bits of water I gave them here and there and on frosty greens but where not happy campers at all. Their sinuses do clog and they go around sneezing snot. Temps back up, the water is thawed and they've gone back to being happy geese. Actually I think they're bored - there isn't enough regrowth to graze any more so I've been having to feed them cracked corn twice a day. The rest of the day instead of being good geese they seem to like to play scare the dog- Hanging out outside the house nearest where I am and then suddenly honking like bloody murder until the dog starts flipping out. Then they have their little hehehe laugh. Gah, Geese. They don't seem to mind the cold, but I will most certainly be laying away more stored water next time I get a freeze. We only got the barest dusting of snow - but it wasn't sufficient to keep happy healthy geese. That's my first time take.
 
Guerric Kendall
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Both chickens and waterfowl will eat snow to keep hydrated.
The problem is: It has been argued that the amount of calories the bird uses to make enough heat to melt the snow within itself, outweighs the benefits of not watering them.
Then again, it's your choice. I let my birds eat snow all winter last year, and they all survived on the standard food rations (0.25 lbs per bird.)
It may be more or less food than they get during the summer though, since I completely free-range in a forest (NOT a pasture) and they get the normal wild feed levels then.
But the fact that I don't have to water or switch out waterers twice a day to prevent freeze, makes up for it in time and labor.


Either way, to answer your question without all the added details; yes they will eat snow.
 
S Haze
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Location: Southern Minnesota, USA, zone 4/5
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Thanks for sharing your experience Landon!

I have a long way to go before I'll be happy with the living arrangements of my ducks and geese. My wife and youngest son are allergic to chicken eggs but do just fine with duck and goose eggs and I just like the way they seem like they could be a lot more low maintenance than chickens. At first we just couldn't keep ducks alive because they'd get eaten by the raccoons, even more so than chickens. They must smell or taste better. But now that we've started keeping geese with the ducks it's going much better.

The next order of business is to build some type of large lean-to /sun-scoop sort of thing to give them an area to eat and play in that's just a bit warmer, they're troopers but I think the -10 F temperatures we've been having lately is wearing on them a bit. This will be a place where I can keep the water too so that it will stay in liquid form a bit longer. Later on I'm envisioning building shelterey things built using almost exclusively natural materials found within a couple hundred feet that stack together many functions. Think of a woodpile wall for seasoning firewood for the next year, a roof made of windfall branches and straw, a compost pile in the center of it to keep the water from freezing that can be used to help establish plantings the following spring (gives some chickens some winter food and something to do too!), or maybe after a winter of use the whole thing could evolve into a hugelkuture complete with mulch and seeds from spilled feed. The concept of a guild of animals is something I'm using to help guide this planning. This assemblage I'm picturing will not only be a winter habitat for ducks, geese, and chickens but also various wild birds, mice, insects and hopefully a lot more creatures I haven't thought of yet.

I'm getting off topic from the title of this thread but I hope that's okay since it ties into the problem of water during freezing weather. Once I have something actually started I'd like to start another thread about animal guilds and winter.
 
S Haze
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Location: Southern Minnesota, USA, zone 4/5
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Thank you Guerric! It's good to know that this is working for someone. Do your birds seem pissed off in the winter? How cold does it get where you live?
 
Guerric Kendall
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S Haze wrote:Thank you Guerric! It's good to know that this is working for someone. Do your birds seem pissed off in the winter? How cold does it get where you live?

Pissed off? Well they weren't aggressive against each other or to me, but they weren't trilling with contentment either. A few of the ducks were standing around the pond looking sad for a bit during the first few days of the water being frozen. There are a few days or weeks between the pond freeze and the first snow where they do require water though. But at the first heavy snow, I stop giving water and they adjust to eating snow on their own. Things go smoothly that way.

The thing about cleaning sinuses is only necessary when they get gunk up their nares(nostrils), for example when billing through mud and dirt. Once their nares are clean and the mud or dirt is frozen due to the weather, they aren't really affected. In case of mucus buildup, the path is clear and they have the ability to sneeze.

I'm in zone 6, so it gets to a max of -2F (-10F with windchill). I don't see what the temperature has to do with them staying hydrated, though. My birds do fine so long as they're out of the wind, even at that -2F. You see, they ploof their feathers and that traps heat and warm air against them. When the wind blows through their feathers they lose those pockets of heat and chill. Even in a 3-sided shelter, they would do fine, if it wasn't for predators. It's also non-acclimation that causes deaths and frostbite in people's flocks. They try to heat and over-insulate the coop during the winter. Then if those birds get out for too long, they have no resistance.

One more thing though, for waterfowl to be able to eat, they must be to grasp it. Occasionally after snowstorms, there is a layer of hard snow they cannot get through. Cows use their hooves to break that apart, but with birds, you have to break it up or remove the hard layer for them. Speaking of which... ducks do not have any sense of feeling on their feet, despite having nerves to carry blood through. So don't be alarmed if you see them wading through the snow without a care.

Unfortunately, I cannot help regarding the details of how they would do in zone 4-5 temps, so you'll have to see for yourself. This depends allot on how cold-hardy the breed is as well. There is a reason some breed's ancestors migrated and didn't stick around for the cold.
 
amanda boyce
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Hi. Eating snow is a bad idea for any warm_blooded animal. Snow is mostly air with very little actual water content, so the amount you or the bird would need to consume would be huge. Add this to the fact that warm-blooded creatures must sacrifice their own internal temperature to melt the snow means that more food will be required. Everything costs energy whether it is caloric, thermal or chemical.
 
Brian Hamalainen
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Location: Chimacum, WA Sunset Zone 5, USDA Zone 8B
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David Hartley wrote:FYI: eating snow will dehydrate you (and animals). It requires massive calories to turn snow to liquid and then bring it up to body temperature for assimilation. Far more than you get from it.
The larger an animal is, the higher heat-producing mass (guts and muscles) to heat-losing surface area (skin) ratio they have and thus keep warm easier. Cows are very large and bulky so they can probably melt snow in their guts with no problem, just because of their sheer mass (which is also thermal mass). Ducks and geese have a very low mass (hollow bones, light weight flesh) to skin ratio. Their feathers sort of help, but their metabolisms are tuned to a life with feathers so it compensates and cancels out the benefit of the feathers. They just don't produce/store much heat and thus can't spare the heat for melting snow/ice for water.
 
Andrew Schreiber
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A few notes on my experience:

Ducks and Chickens can and do eat snow/ice but you have to make the assessment of whether it is worth feeding them the extra calories to help them melt the snow. as was pointed out, cows are large and have the thermal inertia working for them. They also are ruminants, and excess heat is a by-product of their fermentation process. This provides them with bodily warm, without the cows having the metabolize and create the heat themselves. The bacteria in their rumen do it for them.

The same is true for any runimant. We don't have cows, but do have sheep and goats. In the winter, I feed the sheep and goats much more highly fibrous material such as course bunch grasses, dried chicory stalks, and wheat straw. The enzymatic process of bacteria breaking down cellulose and lignin (the fiberous stuff in plants) is exothermic and produces heat. So they have that extra heat in the cold times when they need it most. You also have to give them a high-protein concentrate to give the rumen bacteria enough nitrogen to proliferate amungst the carbon rich fibrous plants. It's just like the dynamics in a compost pile.

Our goats and sheep eat snot, but I still provide them with some warm at least every other day. Depends on what they need though, sometimes everyday.

What's important is that ducks and chickens are not ruminants. They need to metabolize food in order to make heat, so they are at a disadvantage when eating snow.

Also, an animals water needs are going to be significantly less in the winter. They are not sweating, and since colder air has a lower potential to hold moisture, they tend to loose less water by simply breathing. We feed our chooks sprouted wheat in the winter (we have a 5 day bucket rotation, which is super simple and effective) this helps to give them both calories . Since we live in a county which mainly grows soft white winter wheat, we can get it by the tonne for cents on the pound. So it is a veyr economical thing for us to do as we continue to increase out chickens year round forage.

Another option which I am certain is worth exploring is to give your chickens a well insulated building with good solar gain to hang out in. If you put water in their, it will likely not freeze at all. Problem solved. You could also add large thermal mass (like a tank of water, inside the house to help moderate the day/night temps.

We keep our chickens in a "half-hoop" greenhouse that is against the side of a shipping container. There is no insulation, and no eastern wall, but it is still quite warm in their compared to outside.



Like Daniel Salatin, we have integrated our meat rabbits in with our chickens. The chickens get to scratch around under the rabbits (eating fly larvae, seeds, bits of leaf, etc). We do a deep mulch system with the rabbits over winter, and snug a large container (coffee can) into a mound of slowly decomposing woodchip/bunny-manure mulch. This helps insulate it, and since it is on a little mound, the chickens don't tend to kick crap into it. Only on the most severely cold spells does it freeze.

Here is a short article on the chicken house and forest pasture area.

http://www.windward.org/notes/notes71/lindsay7121.htm
 
Andrew Bartelt
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Location: Central Wisconsin
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Did not really see this addressed from anyone in zone 4 (-25 F). Yes they can eat snow, but will not if provided water. Also they do need to be able to clear out sinuses and eyes. This requires them to have head dunking depth. I saw it argued that they don't need it because they are not mucking in the mud, but any warm winter day that provides some melting will give them ample opportunity to drill holes. Also depending on what their food is (such as dried crumbles or pellets) they need the water to moisten the food. I use a heated plug in 5 quart bucket replaced daily, and considering the sentiment on bottom of it after 24 hours, it appears they really do need it. To address concerns of those off grid, You can just go old school and give a warm bucket of water once or twice daily. As far as shelter goes, they have three to choose from, and all prefer an old truck topper gotten from the curb.

I have a bevy of 5 magpies, 3 "penguin", and two Peking.
Plus a gaggle of three Pommeranians.
 
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