Virtue Cider sits on 48 acres of historical farmland. Our mission is to maintain and improve the integrity of our grounds and soil, and that's where our heritage animal rehabilitation program comes in. They help till our soil, and they provide us with wool, dairy, eggs, and meat.
Our job is to create and supply the right environment for them with shelter, fresh water, and food. The rest is up to the animal. In the winter, our job remains the same.
Our visitors might notice that some of our animals are outside all winter. The heritage breeds on our farm are resilient and in fact, being outdoors keeps them happy and occupied. Both our pig and sheep herds would absolutely go insane if kept indoors for the winter. We keep their fuel going so they can have calories to keep their internal temperatures stoked, regular feeding is key to animal warmth. Kinda like making fire!
Our pigs are supplied a non-GMO spent grain mash twice a day, with straw to bed down on in their little huts. They typically burrow under the bedding and sleep five to a pile. If you ever duck inside, it’s incredibly toasty. Old Spot pigs have a thick layer of fat and hair to keep them warm. Keeping them cool on hot days is the bigger challenge! The pigs spend most of their days out in their acreage, exploring, tossing forage up in the air and catching it like a game. Just a bunch of kids on a snow day.
The sheep on our farm are Icelandic in origin, so they have a deep understanding of what it means to survive the frozen elements. When we’re struggling to keep ourselves warm while we fill their feeders, they are snuggled warm against themselves in water-resistant wool. They also like to huddle together in their three-walled shed to get temperatures rising. One of the ewes came up to me and let me feel her belly (there’s a baby in there) and it warmed my cold hands right up. Their diet is the purest of hippy diets; alfalfa grass mixes, mineral salts, and fresh water alongside the occasional treat of beet or carrot pulps and whole oats. I always think I should go on a sheep diet.
The chickens, which include breeds like Ancona, Dominique, and Rhode Island Red, are easy-peasy – we check them once in the morning, collecting eggs, freshening water and feed.
Pippin, our resident mouser stays in the farmhouse through the winter. She enjoys getting fat and day-dreaming about parties on the patio and sun-bathing on barrels in warm weather (see above).
The hardest part about keeping animals outdoors year-round is keeping water supply fresh and unfrozen. We have heaters on all the tanks, but occasionally moisture trips a breaker and we have to get cracking on the ice.
The best thing about caring for these animals, however, is when you’re all done with chores. You get to see them stick their little noses up in the air and inhale as if to say, "This is the life." You can see for yourself when you visit us. You can join us for Wassail this Saturday, Feb., 10, or you can visit us all season long.
—Johanna Bystrom, Virtue hospitality operations manager