picture of a llama in the snow

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As winter rolls in many homesteads will face extreme temperatures, snow, and ice. Livestock don’t usually struggle with the cold. Cold hardy livestock are able to stand these extremes even better. These ‘cold hardy’ livestock do not have to expend energy to stay warm even when the temperature is below freezing. As long as it stays above 20 degrees, they need only a little shelter. Heritage livestock breeds are the best if you’re looking for cold hardy livestock. These breeds are hardier and forage well on pasture.

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Horses are excellent cold-weather adapting livestock animals. They do require the option of shelter in colder, snowy weather and may need jackets when temperatures are near or below freezing. If you are looking at keeping horses and living where it can freeze, make sure that they have access to water. While they can eat snow instead, it takes far more snow to equal the same amount of water. Every mouthful means they lower their body temperature and increase their risk of sickness or hypothermia. Water tank heaters or regularly breaking ice in waterers every morning will ensure they have access to water without the added risk of getting sick.

Ideal heritage horse breeds are Galiceno Horses, Canadian Horses, American Cream Horses, Newfoundland Horses, and Mountain Pleasure Horses. These breeds are perfect for difficult weather conditions, as well as small farms and homesteads where children may interact with them. They are all hard-working breeds but also known for having gentleness and an easy-going personality that works well with families.

Cattle esp. Bison

Check out these other great homestead animals to add to your home this coming year!

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Are you planning to raise your own beef? Cattle are a great cold hardy livestock. Like with any livestock you’ll want to make sure they have access to drinkable water rather than leaving them to chew snow to stay hydrated. You can also look at raising bison; they are a bit more hardy and a natural heritage breed. The most important thing with cattle is to learn about the breed you intend to raise. Not all cattle breeds can handle the same degree of cold weather as others.

Ideal heritage cattle breeds include the rugged and highly environmentally adaptable Canadienne, the critically rare Randall Lineback, the Chirikof cattle with their strong Russian lineage, the North American Yak, and the Belted Galloway. These breeds, and others like them, are ideal for smaller homesteads in harsher conditions. Cattle are known for their ability to adapt to tough environments. Plus, they are able to survive in places with little forage. A few of these breeds, such as the Belted Galloway, are light feeders. This makes this breed ideal for places where forage management is critical.

I strongly encourage all homesteading families that are interested in owning and raising their own livestock to work with heritage livestock breeds. Whether you’re looking for something as easy to raise as chickens or ducks, or interested in larger animals such as sheep or horses, heritage breeds are ideal for both the rigors and limitations of a homestead.


Sheep and goats are common livestock animals for small homesteads and farms. However, sheep are much more cold-hardy livestock than goats. Goats lack the same wooly coat as sheep, plus they’re less fatty. This means they are more at risk of getting dangerously cold. In addition, you have to keep goats in coats. Even with a coat, dairy goats’ udders can be prone to frostbite and damage. Sheep, however, are covered in their wool which keeps them naturally warmer in the wintertime.

You want to look at heritage sheep breeds such as the Hog Island sheep, the Karakul, the Cotswold and Lincoln breeds, and the Black Welsh Mountain sheep. These breeds are known for their ability to survive in harsh environments and can thrive with less care than some other breeds that may need more attention in the wintertime.

Llamas & Alpaca

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If you’re looking for an alternative livestock that is cold-hardy, look no further than the mountain-dwelling camelids – Llamas and Alpacas. Any breed or variety of these unique and different animals will do well in places with cold winters. Llamas and alpaca hail from the high mountain altitudes of South America. The people in these regions use llamas and al. They are uniquely built to stay warm. However, their fleecy coat wicks away moisture and sweat to keep them cool in the warmer summers. Provide them a shelter to get away from the weather if they would like it, but healthy llamas and alpacas should not need more than that.

Don’t Keep Pigs for Winter

Why not pigs? Most farmers avoid over-wintering pigs because they need more care and shelter than other animals. Also, because they will become relatively inactive in the wintertime, they build up heavy fat deposits. This means in the spring when they go to butcher they weigh a lot because there’s tons of fat, but much less useable meat. Since you pay for butchering based on the ‘hanging weight’ of an animal, you want that weight to be as much useable protein as possible.

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