How Cold is Too Cold for Animals?

In many ways, we follow some relatively old fashioned methods of animal husbandry. For example, a lot of people now use heated barns or other enclosures to protect their animals from winter. Of course, there are a lot of benefits to this approach, such as maintaining productivity during winter and reducing animal stress.

However, there are also disadvantages that you must consider from a self-sufficiency perspective. For example, heating an environment for the animals incurs additional cost that is unlikely to be repaid with additional productivity. In addition, such an approach is harder on the environment because the heat is normally provided by some sort of fossil fuel. Unfortunately, the biggest problem is the effect on the animal. If there is a power outage or similar issue that causes a loss of heat, the animal is going to be adversely affected in a serious manner because it isn’t used to the cold and hasn’t had any time to develop a fat layer. We can put on additional layers of clothing when the heat fails—animals typically don’t have this advantage. Animals also tend to have natural cycles, just as we do. The change in seasons helps keep an animal’s internal clock in sync.

Of course, it gets pretty cool here in Wisconsin. We do winterize the animal cages in various ways. For example, the rabbit cages receive a covering of plastic sheeting over the front to keep the wind at bay and also reduce some heat loss. Likewise, the chicken coop window receives a plastic sheet and the back window is both closed and secured. You can’t make the cages airtight, however, because doing so would trap harmful gasses from animal feces that would eventually prove detrimental to animal health. Even during the winter months, animal cages must have at least a little air movement to promote good health.

During the winter months we also feed the animals food with a higher fat content that provides additional calories to help keep them warm. In most cases, this means adding more corn and oats to the rabbit food and providing them with additional high energy food treats (such as carrot scraps). The chickens receive various types of seeds with their feed, along with high protein sources such as meal worms. This approach follows what happens in nature. The seed heads of plants are exposed above the snow, so animals eat these high energy sources of nutrients during the winter months.

Our chickens love the forage all throughout the year. During the summer months they go out every day unless the weather is absurdly harsh (the weather service is predicting tornadoes). In the winter the chickens only go out on warmer, sunnier days. During the cooler days we keep them inside where they can huddle together to preserve warmth.

Part of our strategy is also to use the natural environment to our advantage. For example, all of the cages and the coop are south facing so that any sunlight tends to warm the interior of the cage or coop. There are times when we open the coop door and feel a surge of warmth come out simply because of the effect of the sun on the interior. So, it’s possible to rely on some level of passive heating to help keep animals warm.

Beside the other measures we take, we ensure we check the animal’s water more regularly during the winter to ensure the animals all have liquid water (not iced over in any way) to drink during much of the day. A good source of high energy/high calorie food and water are both essential to animal health during the winter months. All of our animals drink less during the winter, so giving the animal less water, but filling the water trays more often, is the best strategy to follow.

If the weather were to get terribly cold, we also make provision to keep the animals short term in the garage or basement of our home. Neither area is warm enough to stress the animals, but is warm enough to keep them from getting frostbite (a real problem for chicken combs). What sorts of things do you do to make your animals more comfortable and maintain their health in winter? Let me know at


Engaging in the Fall Cleanup

For many people, fall is a time when they cut the grass the last time, take their car to the mechanic for winterization, check for air leaks in the windows, and ensure the furnace will run. These common chores affect anyone involved in self-sufficiency as well. For example, you still need to get your car ready—assuming you have one.

However, fall cleanup requires a lot more from anyone engaged in self-sufficiency because there are more facets to their environment. For example, fall is the time when you need to ensure your animal cages are completely cleaned. (Yes, you also clean them at other times, but fall is when you take everything apart and really clean it up.) If some of your animals are outdoors, you need to ensure they’ll have sufficient cover for the winter months. For us, that means scrubbing down every one of the rabbit hutches and letting them dry before we put a rabbit back inside. In addition, we add any manure under the cages to the compost heap. The chicken coop needs to be cleaned completely, the old hay replaced, and the windows closed. I also make sure I wash the window so the chickens can see out. It turns out that chickens like a nice view too.

Of course, you take the garden down after picking any remaining goodies and plant your winter rye to prevent erosion. The fall is a good time to look for potential soil issues and possibly get a soil test so that you know how to deal with problems the following spring. Likewise, your herb and flower gardens require attention so that any perennial plants will make it through the winter. However, don’t put mulch on immediately. Wait until the garden is frozen and then put the mulch on. Doing so will ensure that the plants are properly prepared for the winter.

You may not have thought of it, but all of your equipment has taken a beating during the summer months, including all of the equipment used for canning. This is a good time to scrub your pots and pans up and ensure they’re in good shape before you put them up. Make sure your pressure canner receives particular attention. Check to see if the gasket is in good shape, along with the rubber plug used for emergency pressure relief. Your stove will need a thorough cleaning and may require maintenance as well. Make sure everything is put away correctly so that you don’t have to waste a lot of time trying to find it in the late spring when you begin using it again.

Don’t think you’re finished yet. Now is the time to start walking the grounds looking for problems in your orchard. For example, it’s relatively easy to find pests that hide on trees during this time of the year. Make sure you check trees for problems associated with stress. For example, pear trees are prone to crack at the joints. You might need to mark some areas for special pruning in the spring. If a problem seems especially serious, you may want to address it now, rather than later.

Being self-sufficient means ending as well as you began. During the spring there is an excitement that builds that makes it easy to prepare for the new gardening season, but by the end of the season, all you really want to do is flop down in front of the wood stove. The time you take to prepare now will pay significant dividends in the spring. Let me know about your fall preparations at


Fermenting Fruit and Animals

Every year a certain amount of fruit falls from our trees and ends up rotting on the ground. For some people, that would be the end of the story. A few others might clean up the resulting mess. However, we choose to leave it in place. The fruit actually ferments and produces alcohol. Even through many people don’t realize it, fermentation is a natural process that would happen quite easily without anyone’s help. In fact, some of the best tasting foods, such as sauerkraut, are naturally fermented (most sauerkraut you buy in the store isn’t naturally fermented and you’d be able to taste the different readily if it were).

It turns out that the animals in the area enjoy imbibing in a little fermented fruit. Our experience isn’t uncommon either—it happens all over the world. There is never enough fruit left over to make the animals terribly drunk (as happened recently to a moose in Sweden). Most of the time they appear to get a bit happy and go on their way. Until the other day, all I had ever seen eating the fruit were the rabbits and deer in the area. So, it surprised me a little to see our laying hens swaying back and forth on their way to the coop. It seems that they also enjoyed the fermented pears lying on the ground.

All of the fruit we grow (apples, pears, plums, cherries, and grapes) will ferment given time. You might wonder how the fermentation takes place. The easiest way to see the start of fermentation is to look at unwashed grapes, especially wild grapes. If you look carefully, it appears that they’re covered with dust. That’s not actually dust, it’s wild yeast. When the fruit is ripe enough and the yeast is able to breach the skin, fermentation begins.

If it’s so easy to create alcohol from natural sources, you might wonder what all the hubbub is about in buying yeast. Different yeast have different properties. When you rely on a wild yeast, you get varying results. Cultured yeast has known properties, so it works better when making bread or wine. The results are repeatable. In addition, using a cultured yeast makes it easier to stop the natural conclusion of the fermentation process, which is always some type of vinegar-like substance (more specifically, lactic acid).

At issue here is how much responsibility a landowner has to nature when it comes to fermented fruit. Because we pick the vast majority of our fruit, the animals in our area get a little happy and that’s about the extent of what happens. When you leave full trees of fruit to rot though, it could become a problem for the wildlife in your area, such as that moose in Sweden. If you can’t pick your fruit for whatever reason, try to find someone who will. Otherwise, you might find yourself trying to correct the errant judgements made by the wildlife in your area when it gets drunk. Let me know your thoughts about fermentation and animals at


Moving Heavier Tractors and Cages Safely

It’s important to chicken and rabbit health to move tractors and cages regularly. We don’t keep our chickens and rabbits in a barn because allowing them access to sunshine and fresh air is far healthier. However, it’s harder to keep the tractors and cages clean outside. The manure builds up and ammonia emissions can begin affecting animal health. So, the solution is to move the animal to a new location so it has a clean place to live. You can then allow the manure to compost in place or shovel it up for centralized decomposition. However, moving cages can be hard on the back and you need multiple people to perform the task in many cases. The solution to this problem is to build a dolly specifically designed for the purpose of moving cages.

One of the questions that you might have about the need for a dolly is whether it might be easier to simply add permanent wheels to the cages. There are a number of problems with this approach:


  • Cost: Good cage wheels cost quite a bit and duplicating them over twenty or so cages gets pricey.
  • Maintainability: Anything left outside for an extended period tends to get dirty and to corrode. Keeping permanently mounted wheels functional is difficult.
  • Practicality: Chicken tractors must sit completely on the ground because the open bottomed cages provide protection by keeping predators out.
  • Control: Although rabbit cages are normally raised above ground level, having them on wheels is impractical when your property lacks level land (as our does). The tractor or cage could literally run away with the animals in them if the wheels are permanently mounted.

A problem with most dollies is that they have four wheels. The idea is to keep whatever you’re moving level. However, this approach doesn’t work well with tractors, where you want to raise the cage only enough to move the chickens or cages where you want to transition the rabbits to a moveable state a little at a time. Using a four wheel dolly also places stress on the tractor or cage and can cause the wheels to dig into the soil.

The dolly I created for moving the tractors and cages has only two wheels. The setup automatically adjusts for the current level of the tractor or cage and the wheels don’t dig in as a result. You raise the end of the cage up, slip the dolly underneath, tighten a strap to keep it in place, and you’re ready to go. Here’s how the dolly looks when attached.


As shown in the picture, the dolly is made up of a 2 × 4 that is a little longer than the end of the tractor or cage. There is an eye bolt at each end of the dolly for attaching the strap. The strap is the ratcheting type that has a hook on each end to make for easy attachment. The wheels are 4″ in diameter and swivel in every direction. Here is a better look at the method used to strap the cage down.


Strapping the cage in place is essential and a bungee cord won’t do the trick. The cage will slip off the dolly and you’ll lose control. Make sure you get a good nylon strap with an attached ratcheting device. Otherwise, you risk losing the cage and possibly hurting the animals that you’re trying to move.

Make sure you purchase high quality wheels for your dolly. The wheels should offer four sturdy bolt positions for attaching the wheel to the dolly. In addition, the wheels should come apart for cleaning as shown in this picture.


Notice that the pin holding the wheel bolts in place. Removing the bolt makes it possible to take the wheel completely apart for cleaning so that you can continue to obtain good service from the dolly.

Building two dollies will make it easier for anyone to move a relatively large tractor or cage with ease without doing much lifting at all (except to attach the dolly initially). Let me know your thoughts about tractor and cage movement devices at


Making Grass Hay

I’ve talked about grass hay in the past (Adding Chickens to the Coop and Easter Bunnies (Part 2)). Grass hay is field grass that we let grow long, cut with a weed whacker, and then use as you would normal hay. With the price of alfalfa (the hay that most people are familiar with) going way up due to last year’s drought, we’ve expanded our use of grass hay substantially. This summer has seen the grass grow quite tall in our orchard. I’ve been out there with the weed whacker as needed to get what we need and I’ll soon cut down the rest to use this winter.

Generally, the grass hay is used green during the summer for feeding the rabbits. In winter, we can use dried grass hay for feeding the rabbits, but usually feed them pellets instead. However, in order to use grass hay for bedding, we need to let it dry. The chickens definitely don’t enjoy a wet bed.

Initially we used the garden tractor to cut the grass hay. After all, it’s quite fast. However, using the garden tractor creates several problems. The most important issue is that the garden tractor tends to cut the grass too short for bedding and the rabbits don’t appreciate the mashed grass. In addition, grass cut with the mower tends to mildew, rather than dry properly. Using the mower is also quite hard on the mower, as I found out after having to replace one of the pulleys on the deck because it stripped due to the excessive load. Of course, cutting the grass with a weed whacker is also better for the environment (less gas used for the same area of grass) and better exercise. The biggest downside of this approach is that it’s time consuming.

Drying field grass is similar to drying alfalfa. However, the drying time is considerably shorter. I normally cut the grass in the morning after the dew is gone, let the grass dry until evening, and then rake it into long lines for further drying. The next day, after the dew is gone, I rake the grass over, let it dry for another few hours, and then put it into feed sacks for later use. The grass hay isn’t compressed as bailed alfalfa is, so you need more of it to accomplish a given task. The use of feed sacks is important because it allows air to circulate around the grass. Otherwise, the grass could heat and spontaneously combust; causing a fire.

Our field grass is actually made up of a number of grasses (such as canary and broom grass) and other plant types (such as millet and Queen Anne’s Lace). We also have many of the native grasses growing in our orchard (where we harvest our grass hay). It’s normally best to wait until the grass goes to seed so that the animals obtain the nutritional benefit of the seed heads.

Grass hay is perfectly acceptable feed for rabbits and the chickens seem to enjoy eating the seed heads. However, it wouldn’t be acceptable feed for an animal with higher nutritional requirements, such as a cow. You need to have the right sort of feed for the animal you’re working with.

Have you ever tried making up your own grass hay? What sorts of issues did you encounter when using it? Let me know your thoughts about grass hay at


Making an Opportunity from Falling Trees

No matter where you have them, trees eventually fall. Parts of our property are heavily wooded, so falling trees are expected and happen fairly often. Winds will blow a tree down, lightning will crack it, insects will kill it, woodpeckers will weaken it, or old age will simply take it. No matter the cause, the tree lands somewhere and in most cases, the landing is benign from our perspective. However, we recently experienced a less benign falling tree. The woodpeckers had weakened it, birds had nested in the holes, and carpenter ants had drilled a hole through the center. A lightning strike and high winds finished the job. After the storm we got up to see a rather large tree draped across our rabbit hutches.



Most of the pictures in this post were taken by my wife, Rebecca. I greatly appreciate her help in putting this post together.

Our first thought was that the rabbits had escaped their hutch or were possibly dead. Amazingly, the rabbit hutch held and the rabbits were safe. The main problem was that we couldn’t get to them to feed them.


Unfortunately, cutting up a large tree is hot work and the heat index was well over 100 degrees that day (into the danger zone of the heat index chart). Let’s just say that it was sweaty work and leave it go at that. The tree was poised like a giant spring. The main trunk was actually split in two, but it was butted up against the rabbit cages in a way that didn’t let it fall completely, so I had to cut the tree with extreme care—starting with the branches.


As I cut the branches, I separated the parts that I would later chip from those we would dry for firewood. The larger pieces were cut into lengths for stacking.


After a while, all of the branches were cut. The tree was as safe as I could make it. However, the main part of the trunk was still braced against the rabbit hutch, so we still couldn’t get to the rabbits to feed them.


The most challenging moment came when I had to release the spring holding the trunk against the cages. The cut was extremely dangerous because I had to cut the tree enough to release the pressure, but not so much that it would flip in some unexpected way. What I needed was a slow release of pressure so that the tree would come to a safer position. I made the cut and the tree slowly started to move as expected. The spring completely released itself and the piece I had partially cut ended up standing straight in the air before falling to the ground.


I still have a lot of tree to cut, but we’ve managed to make use of everything. The pieces of the tree I have already cut up are stacked and drying nicely.


We also obtained a large stack of branches.


A lot of people would create a huge brush pile from the branches and burn them. However, doing so is really bad for the environment and wasteful of a useful part of the tree. I’m currently chipping the branches up and using them for mulch on our grapes. The mulch will keep the grapes moister, reduce watering costs, and make the grapes more productive because they won’t be battling weeds.


In the end, what started as a disaster turned into an opportunity. Not every act of nature turns out this way, but we try to make the best of every situation. When did you last make an opportunity out of a natural event that started as a negative? Let me know at


Rabbits Do Talk!

Some people envision rabbits as these quintessentially quiet animals who sit silently and never make their feelings known. However, in the real world, rabbits are actually quite vocal and will let you know precisely how they feel about any given topic. Of course, as with people, some rabbits are more vocal than others are. A few rabbits actually are quite docile and you must coax their feelings from them, but they’re rare (as are quiet people).

If you listen, your rabbit will talk to you. For example, if you hear a growling type noise, it means that your rabbit is annoyed or feels threatened in some way. When threatened, the rabbit will back into a corner (or at least away from the threat). However, when the rabbit is annoyed, it follows the growl with a loud thump from those tremendous feet. (OK, they don’t look all that huge to you, but when you consider the rabbit’s overall size, those feet really are monsters.)

Females who are annoyed with the male in their cage really do growl quite loud and will sometimes charge the male. In fact, several females we’ve had were quite willing to take a chunk out of the poor guy’s back (and all he was doing was asking for a date). If the female is feeling territorial, the growl may become a shorter and louder bark. When you see this behavior, it means the female is bred and the male had better just leave as quickly and as quietly as possible. If you hear barking from two males, it means that they’re both alpha males and are about ready to get into a fight. You must move one of the two males to a different cage.

A change in cage can sometimes trigger an annoyance response. We moved one of our rabbits to a different (and we thought nicer) cage. The rabbit was obviously not impressed. She spent quite some time charging at us, thumping her feet, and growling quite loudly. In some cases, she preceded a lunge with a hiss, which showed a kind of extreme annoyance. Yes, we heard her loud and clear (unfortunately, there was little we could do to appease her and she finally decided the new cage would be just fine after all).

Sometimes thumping goes hand-in-hand with some sort of physical demonstration. One male seemed quite annoyed that another rabbit (a female and her kits) had received all the nice carrot shavings while he was offered the same dry rabbit pellets as normal. So he thumped quite loudly and then threw his dish across the cage. We decided that the extra carrot in the refrigerator would make a wonderful peace offering and the rabbit agreed. The chickens ate the food that fell through the bottom of his cage, so everyone seemed quite happy with the way things turned out.

Honking is another vocalization. Think of it as someone with a serious sinus condition and you get the idea. A rabbit will generally make this noise when happy or wanting attention. Some of our breeder rabbits will actually shovel their noses into us and then honk to demonstrate that we really do need to pay attention to them. Of course, if we show them some, but not enough attention, the rabbit will almost certainly thump when we close the cage (and possibly throw the food dish against the wall as well).

Some rabbits will also grind their teeth when they are happy and want attention. Teeth grinding is a good thing and you want to hear it. It’s important to note that the teeth grinding in this case is quiet and light, not the heavy grinding associated with eating something.

Along with honking and teeth grinding, seriously happy rabbits will sometimes coo. Depending on the kind of rabbit and the level of happiness, some people associate this sound with a sort of buzzing noise. The rabbit will usually be extremely relaxed, sometimes with its back legs splayed out, and normally with its eyes closed.

Finally, there is the sound no one wants to hear, the high pitched rabbit scream. You normally hear it when the rabbit is in pain or in fear of its life. If you hear this sound, you know the rabbit needs immediate help. We heard it when some feral dogs in the area decided they might like a rabbit for dinner. Fortunately, our cages are well-built and the dogs didn’t have their way, but the rabbits in those cages were screaming quite loud. In fact, at least one of them passed out from fright (it later recovered).

Facial activities can also alert you to a rabbit’s mood. For example, twitching whiskers often denote curiosity (normally for a food item, but also for attention). The faster those whiskers twitch, the more curious the rabbit. Ears held forward and at the alert tell you that the rabbit has heard an unexpected sound. We’ve noted that some rabbits will furrow their brow when upset or annoyed.

What sorts of sounds does your rabbit make? Have you noticed facial expressions, positions of back feet and ears, and other behaviors that help you understand what your rabbit is trying to say? Let me know what you’ve observed at


Keeping Things Clean

Not a lot of time is spent in discussing cleanliness in many self-sufficiency texts except to say that it’s important to maintain the cleanliness of the animal enclosures to improve overall animal health and to reap the monetary benefits of doing so. It’s true, keeping the animal enclosures clean does provide these benefits. No matter what sort of animal is in your care, dog, cat, chicken, or rabbit, cleanliness is a requirement if you want to maintain their health. Unhealthy animals are a lot more expensive to keep and you won’t obtain much financial benefit from them.

A few texts will stress that animal cleanliness also produces happier animals. Animals tend not to express happiness or unhappiness in the same way that humans do. However, each of our animals does express happiness or displeasure in specific ways. Anyone can see these emotional conditions if they care to look. Animals do feel things and the need to be clean (after a certain manner) is a characteristic that they have in common with us.

However, I’ve never encountered a text that stresses that animals have a preference for being clean or that they even have the intellectual resources to determine the difference between clean and dirty. Over the years, we’ve worked hard to keep the environment our animals live in as clean as possible. During that time we’ve also noticed that the animals definitely have a desire to be clean and that they do, in fact, have the intelligence to tell the difference.

For example, one rabbit purposely chewed a hole in the side of it’s enclosure to gain access to the middle enclosure of a three rabbit hutch. It was only after I discovered an air leak in the side of the rabbit’s current enclosure and fixed the leak that the rabbit was happy to stay in the enclosure I chose for it. The rabbit was uncomfortable and determined a method for overcoming that discomfort. It’s method of addressing the problem showed a certain level of intelligence.

As another example, in cleaning the chicken’s nest box enclosure, some of the bedding gets tromped down, but is still dry and clean. We fluffed up the bedding and added a bit more to ensure the chickens comfort and to keep the eggs from breaking. Other bedding was soiled, and so we put it into the compost heap to decompose. New bedding was put in the nest boxes that had soiled bedding in them. The chickens unerringly chose the nest boxes with new bedding in which to lay their eggs. Since the chickens were outside in their run and didn’t see which nest boxes received the new bedding, we can only assume that they can smell or somehow see the difference between the new and old bedding. However, it’s important to note that they knew the difference and made a choice to use the new bedding, rather than the old, even though the old bedding is still clean and usable.

We had three cats at one point. One of the cats had become enfeebled due to old age and was sick. The other two cats would refuse to use the potty pan after the sick cat until we cleaned the potty pan up. The odor left behind by the sick cat signaled disease and the other two didn’t want to pick up. Even if the potty pan had just been cleaned, the other two would refuse to go into after the sick cat. The cats made a choice.

Keeping your animal’s environment clean is therefore more than simply a matter of health or monetary gain. Animals are happier when you keep their environment clean and they do have the intelligence to make choices about their environment, given the chance to do so. It’s the intelligence part of the equation that should grab your attention most. Animals know when their environment isn’t up to par and you should too. Providing your animals with a clean environment is a responsibility that you should take seriously.

However, it’s also important to remember that animals don’t use human standards of cleanliness. The essentials are to keep the environment clean and comfortable. A rabbit or chicken is unlikely to want, need, or even accept room deodorizer or other human niceties in their environment. In fact, some human niceties (such as scents) are actually detrimental to animal health in some cases. Make sure you take an animal eye view of environment when you setup, maintain, and clean their equipment. Let me know your thoughts on animal environments at


Mystery Rabbits

We recently had something of a mystery. Actually, we haven’t figured it out yet and probably never will. We bred our doe and then waited the usual 31 days for her to have her kits (babies). The nest box was empty at that time, but given that the weather had turned cool, we kept checking up to day 35, at which time we decided that she hadn’t been bred and that we’d need to wait for spring to try again. Even though our rabbits could have babies at any time, the temperatures need to be above freezing to ensure the kits will survive, so we never breed them in the winter.

Imagine our surprise when day 40 arrived and we looked inside the nest box again in order to clean it out. Suddenly there were babies in there! We were so surprised by the arrival. Given that this is the mother’s first time, we decided to close the nest box and leave it completely alone until the babies were a bit bigger. The other day I noticed the first popper, a baby who has jumped out of the next box for the first time. So, I decided it might be acceptable to look inside. Moonglow, the mother, has had a lovely litter of seven babies.


All of the babies are solid white with pink eyes. The bottom line for us is that nature constantly teaches us not to place any schedules on our animals. In this case, mom obviously chose a time to have her babies that would work best for them. The babies are all doing exceptionally well and will be able to survive the cold now that they have a full covering of fur. We’ll move them to less crowded conditions once we’re certain that they’ll do well in the cooler weather (for now, they’re keeping each other warm).

What surprise had nature presented you with lately? Do you find yourself being amazed at all of the wonders that nature presents? Let me know your thoughts at


Considering the Effects of Technology on Animals

It was an innocent act—incredibly funny, in fact that led me to think about the topic of today’s post. I had recently installed new UPSs for our computers. The addition allowed me to plug the speakers in for my wife’s system. She has a program named Catz installed on her machine. They’re virtual cats, of course, that you feed and pet just like the real thing. The cats will play on screen while you work away. Every once in a while, you can take a break to see them do some of the oddest things you’ve ever seen. Our real cat, Smucker, hadn’t ever heard Catz before. When he heard them for the first time, he was intrigued. At some point, I walked near my wife’s office and heard the most horrid banging. Naturally I stopped to investigate and there was Smucker, banging on those speakers for all he was worth, trying the get the cats out .

The technology you use can produce hilarious events with your animals because the animal has no clue that it’s technology, and not the real world. Over the years our cats and dogs have interacted with animals on TV, tried to make sense of plush toys that also purr, and wondered about our sanity in associating with the vacuum. For the most part, our dogs and cats have been curious, we’ve been entertained, and no one has gotten hurt.

I know that technology has had a beneficial affects on our animals in many cases. For example, research into new materials has garnered long lasting and easy-to-clean rubber buckets for our chickens (see Review of Weather Proof Rubber Pan). All of our animals have benefited from the research we perform online—something that wouldn’t have been possible even a few years ago. Technology helps us create better environments for our animals and to feed them better food. The vet that cares for our animals relies on modern technology for shots and general care. In short, our animals have a better life because of technology.

However, I also started to consider the negative aspects of technology. When a human plays music too loud, doesn’t it also affect our animal’s hearing? While we put the dogs up when working with yard equipment, the chickens and rabbits remain outside. Does the use of these items affect their hearing and potentially cause other problems? I’ve been spending considerable time thinking about these issues as of late because technology can be a two-edged sword in many ways. Because animals have no way of telling us how technology affects them, we often have to rely on our senses to detect changes in them. For example, the rabbits do get quite nervous when I drive right next to their cage with my garden tractor. I changed that behavior this year and started using the hand mower or my weed whacker—the rabbits do seem a bit less nervous.

Sometimes the technology meant for direct use with animals can be harmful too. For example, reading the list of ingredients for some animal food should tell you that the food isn’t truly beneficial. It may be an inexpensive way to feed your animal, but it’s not a good way to meet their dietary needs. We tend to try to feed our animals things they would naturally eat, even though technology says that we really need to use some specially formulated food instead. In fact, we’ve found that we can save money and still give our animals a better life by not following the technological route in this case. We provide our animals with kitchen scraps of all sorts, along with access to grass, insects, and all sorts of other natural foods—none of which costs us a penny, but is healthier for the animal.

A major problem for me is that there isn’t a lot of research available on the problems that technology can cause when it comes to animals. As a result, I spend a lot of time seeing how the animals react to the techniques we employ to make their lives better. How is your use of technology affecting your animals? Let me know your perspective at