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How Fox Valley farmers keep their animals safe during subzero weather

Randy Heine daughter Meagan inside one Hampshire-arefarm family's pig barns this week. Keeping animals safe extreme temperatures takes experience work.

Randy Heine and daughter Meagan, inside one of the Hampshire-area farm family's pig barns this week. Keeping animals safe in extreme temperatures takes experience and work. | Denise Moran for Sun-Times Media

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Updated: February 11, 2014 6:18AM

HAMPSHIRE — The double-digit below-zero drop in temperatures this week meant that local area livestock farmers had to put in extra hours to ensure the safety of their animals.

Among those in this area who had to deal with animals and the extreme weather was the Heine family, which owns a 1,000-acre farm along Walker Road; and Georgia Tolp, owner of Fair Wind Farm along Kelly Road. They offered some tips on keeping pigs, cattle, horses and even dogs safe when the weather turns downright dangerous.

The Heine family has lived on its 1,000-acre farm since buying it in 1965. The family includes Randy and Jodi Heine; daughters Meagan, 14, Jessica, 13, and Kaitlyn, 9; and Randy’s father, Herb Heine.

The farm has five barns and two sheds for its 700 to 1,000 pigs and 52 beef cattle.

Meagan said she and her sisters do not have specific chores that they perform all the time, but they definitely help out when work needs to be done. She talked about what her family did to help their livestock weather the recent arctic temperatures.

“We lay stalk stacks — or big bales of straw — inside the sheds for the cows,” Meagan said. “The cows like to go out to pasture; but if it’s icy outside, we bring the cows in the barns. During the winter, we turn up the heat in the barns. Some of the older and bigger pigs are kept outside. When it’s really cold, all the animals come inside. We lay down extra straw to keep the animals warm.”

Meagan said extreme heat is actually worse for pigs than extreme cold.

“In the summer, the pigs are looking for shade,” Meagan said. “They eat more and drink more water. We keep the fans on in the barns during the summer.”

Meagan said two of the barns are cleaned out every Saturday. It usually takes two hours to clean each barn.

There are big feeders for the pigs that are filled once a week.

Some of the barns have slotted floors so pig droppings can fall through. A tractor is used to haul and remove the collected manure, which is later spread over the fields.

Tolp has owned Fair Wind Farm for 26 years. She has raised quarter horses, showed cutting horses that worked cattle, and raised 10 litters of Australian shepherd dogs. She also does pet sitting and dog boarding.

She currently has two horses on her farm: Holly is a 30-year-old quarter mare, and Papa is a 27-year-old thoroughbred gelding.

On Monday and Tuesday — when the thermometer plummeted to double-digit subzero temperatures — Tolp kept the horses in the barn. She said her barn has an indoor arena where the horses can get some exercise.

“I put their winter blankets on them and fed them more hay,” Tolp said. “If horses don’t get enough water, they can (get) colic.”

She said horses always need adequate shelter.

“If they are outside during the winter, they need shelter to keep them out of the wind and blowing snow,” Tolp said.

Tolp also currently owns two Australian shepherds, 8-year-old Misty and 3-year-old Colt.

“When you have extreme cold like we had this week, I don’t think dogs should be left outside for a long time,” Tolp said. “Their paws, nose and ears can get frostbite. Make sure they have adequate food and water. Dog toys and dog bones can help to relieve a dog’s boredom when it is kept indoors.”

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