Winter Warming

Winter can be an unpredictable season in Iowa. From blue skies to blizzards and everything in between, it can be tough to know just what to wear some days to keep warm.  People can easily change their clothes, though, to match the weather.


The farm animals at the museum can’t put on a winter jacket and a stocking hat when it’s especially cold or a light sweater when it’s mild, and they certainly can’t come inside the house when it’s just too cold. So, what do they do instead to deal with Iowa’s unpredictable winter weather?


The horses and cows grow long, thick, shaggy winter hair when it starts to cool down in the fall. This hair growth doesn’t actually have anything to do with temperature, though.  It has to do with how many hours of sunlight there are each day, known as a photoperiod.  As the photoperiod shortens, the horses and cows start growing their hair to get ready for cooler temperatures.


Horses and cows use this thick winter fur to trap a layer of air against their skin, which is slowly warmed by their body heat. The hair also scatters light, which may help insulate the animals. As long as they have shelter from north winds, they are comfortable outside, and they enjoy sunning themselves whenever possible.

We cut the wool off our sheep (a process called shearing) at the start of each summer. They spend the whole summer and fall growing new wool, instead of waiting for days to get shorter like the horses and cows. By the time they need it in the winter, they have their thick wool coats back to keep them warm until spring.

All of the animals also have to use more energy to keep warm, just like how shivering takes more work than standing still. They all have to eat more food to make up for the extra energy they spend staying warm.

Since the pigs don’t have a thick outer layer of fur, wool, or feathers like the other animals, they have to create a thick inner layer of fat to help insulate their bodies. To create this layer of fat, they have to eat even more food than the other animals.


The pigs also enjoy being given a few extra whole bales of straw, which they rip up and rearrange to create their own nests inside the hog house. They cuddle up tight against each other in these nests to share body heat. Pigs also enjoy sunning themselves, even on cold sunny days.


What is a Mule?

draft horses

If you’ve visited Living History Farms before, you have probably seen the horses that live and work at the 1900 Farm. Sam, Judah, and Ben are a special kind of horse called a “Percheron” horse. They are big and built to pull wagons and farm machines. Working animals like this are called draft animals.

mulesExciting news! Our Percherons have two new friends, named Buddy and Brandy, who will be joining them on the 1900 Farm soon! Buddy and Brandy aren’t Percherons like Sam, Judah, and Ben. They’re not even horses! They are mules, which means their parents were a horse and a donkey, like the one in this painting.


Mules get some features from each parent. For instance, they have long ears like a donkey, and they have long tails like a horse. In fact, they get the best traits of both of their parents.

A draft mule has the size and power of a draft horse, combined with a donkey’s ability to work in the heat and eat less feed. They are sure-footed and patient like a donkey, yet strong and bold like a horse. Getting the best traits from parents of two different species is called hybrid vigor. Hybrid vigor in mules makes them generally healthier and able to live and work longer than either a donkey or a horse – up to 40 or 50 years! single mule

Many people think donkeys and mules are stubborn. They are actually very smart animals with lots of common sense. Mules and donkeys like being around people. They work best when they are treated with kindness, patience, and understanding, just like people.

Buddy and Brandy are learning to call Living History Farms their new home. They will be pastured away from lots of people for another month to “settle in”. You can look for them moving to the 1900 Farm later in the summer! We’ll keep you updated when they move to the barnyard!

Kid Reporters: 1850 and 1900 Farms

Would you like a kids’ view of Living History Farms? Meet John and Catherine, this week’s Living History Farms roving reporters! John, age 9, and Catherine, age 11, spent a Saturday morning visiting the 1850 Pioneer Farm and the 1900 Horse-Powered Farm. Follow these young reporters as they meet the historic interpreters and animals at the farm!

Farmer Kirk introduced the pair to the lambs born this spring. The pioneer farm had 12 babies this spring. The lambs are already getting pretty heavy!

Inside the log house, Farmer Hilary shows the pair around the home. The pioneer house may not seem very fancy, but Hilary shows off a few luxuries that pioneers might buy to be more comfortable.

And we can’t forget a look at the 1850 Cayuga Ducks!

Moving on to the 1900 Farm, John and Catherine meet Farmer Kate.

Out in the barnyard, they catch up with Farmer Kelly and meet some of the new baby pigs.

The baby pigs are pretty small. But the kid reporters find some really big animals in the barn!

And our hard-working reporters are drafted for chicken chores! Watch here to see what they find in the 1900 chicken coop.

The farm cats at 1900 are usually in the barn catching mice, but it looks like the reporters found someone taking a break!

Meet Farmer Kelly

The museum opens May 1st! That’s only three days away. When you visit our museum this season, there are many people for you to meet. There are greeters in the Visitor Center. There are tractor drivers who help people board the carts and drive them out to the trail stop. At each of the farms and shops, you will meet our historic guides. They are the people who answer questions and help guests understand what it was like to live in Iowa a long time ago. Kids often ask us about our jobs at the museum and what we do every day. Would you like to know more about us? Maybe why those historic guides like to dress up in long sleeved clothes on really hot days? Or how they know the answers to all those questions? Let’s get to know Farmer Kelly this week. Read about why she likes her job and what keeps her busy. Then stop in at the museum on Thursday and say hello!Farmer Kelly

Farmer Kelly works at the 1900 Horse-Powered Farm. You might see her working in the barn or driving the Percheron draft horses there. Do you think it’s hard to take care of those big horses? Or milking cows? Let’s ask her!

Q. Hi Farmer Kelly! Where at the museum do you work?

A. I spend most of my time at the 1900 Horse-Powered Farm, but you may also see me working with the oxen at the 1850 Pioneer Farm.

Q. We see you at the museum a lot. Do you live at Living History Farms?

A. I don’t live at the museum. I only work here during the day. When the museum closes, I go home to a modern house with indoor plumbing and electricity.

Q. Have you always lived here in Iowa?

A. I’m originally from Perry, Iowa, but I lived in New Hampshire for several years, where I learned a lot about dairy cows!

Q. Do you make your own old style clothing?

A. Thankfully, I don’t have to make my own clothing for work – called “Period Clothing”. We have someone who is in charge of making (and mending!) everyone’s clothes here at the museum. I do enjoy wearing my period clothing. It’s all made out of cotton, so it’s light, cool, and airy during the summer time, but it also protects me from the sun and from getting scraped up around the farm. 

Q. What kinds of things do you do at the farm every day?

A. The first thing I do when I get to the 1900 Farm is open up all of the buildings and feed the animals. They are always very hungry for breakfast! Every day is a little different. Some days I work in the fields planting, cultivating (that’s weeding), or harvesting crops. But other days I am mostly in the barnyard, fixing fences, splitting firewood, or cleaning out the barn.

Q. What is the hardest chore you have to do?

A. Splitting wood is one of the harder tasks I have to do. The logs and the ax can be heavy, and it takes a lot of bending over to pick up the split pieces of wood. It took a lot of practice to get better at it. The more I practice, the stronger I get. That makes it a lot easier, and my aim is even starting to improve! 

Q. What is the most fun chore you do?

A. Driving the horses is one of the most fun activities I get to do on the 1900 Farm. It usually doesn’t matter what I’m doing with them; even spreading manure can be fun. I like it because I get to spend time with the horses. It can be really relaxing to work with them, and its fun to show people that girls can drive the horses, too!  

Farmer Kelly

Q. Those horses are really big—are they scary to be around?

A. The horses are very big; some weigh more than 2000 pounds! But they aren’t scary to be around. All of our horses are very friendly and love to be petted. Draft horses are often referred to as “gentle giants”, and I’d say this is true of our horses!  Farmer Kelly

Q. When kids visit the 1900 Farm with their family, how should they act around the horses?

A. When you visit with your family, it’s important to ask a farmer before you pet a horse that isn’t in the barn. The horses also like if you act calm and cautious around them. Running and loud noises can make them nervous! You should also always be careful of going behind them and be careful of their back legs. Make a big, wide circle around the horse.  


Q. What do you like to show people at the 1900 Farm?

A. I love to talk with visitors about milk and dairying on the 1900 Farm. Did you know that milk wasn’t a common drink back then? I also love to show people how to milk a cow by hand. I even let visitors try it for themselves. If you visit the 1900 Farm in late June and July, usually at the beginning or end of the day, you might get a chance to try your hand at milking a cow.

 Farmer Kelly

Q. What is your favorite season and what are your favorite animals on the 1900 Farm?

A. My favorite season is spring. I love seeing everything green up as the snow disappears, and I’m always anxious to start working in the garden and fields. My favorite animals on the 1900 Farm are the pigs. They’re very smart animals and love attention from the farmers, especially having their backs scratched.

 Farmer Kelly

Q. How did you learn to work with farm animals?

A. I went to college to study Animal Science. I learned a lot about how animals behave and how to handle them. I also learned what to feed them and how their bodies work. I’ve been working with horses since I was about 8 years old, but I didn’t learn how to drive draft horses until I started working at the museum.  

Q. You know a lot about history! How do you learn it all?

A. We have a library here at the museum full of books and articles that help us learn the history of farming. I also spend a lot of time searching the internet for information on topics I am interested in or questions visitors ask that I don’t know the answer to. Last summer, I was interested in the history of beekeeping, so I read a lot of issues of the American Bee Journal. It does take a lot of reading to learn all this history. But it’s fun when you like what you’re reading about!

Q. Who is your favorite person in history? Why?

A. I have a lot of favorites, but John Muir is at the top of the list. He is often referred to as the “Father of the National Parks in America” because he petitioned the U.S. Congress for the National Park bill that was passed in 1890. I think it’s pretty cool that he fought so hard to keep some of the most beautiful places in America wild and natural. 

Come visit Kelly at Living History Farms this season!

Keeping Warm on the Farm!

horses in snow

It has been a cold January so far at Living History Farms! Many people ask how our horses, cows, sheep, and other farm animals stay warm when it is really cold outside. Farm animals do a great job at keeping warm with a little help from their farmers. In the winter time, horses, cattle, and sheep grow their own winter coats. As days get shorter, horses and cows grow long, coarse hair all over their bodies. The animals can fluff up these long hairs when they are cold. The long hair traps warm air against their bodies and helps to keep them warm. The horses and cows look very shaggy right now in their long winter coats!

Horses and cattle do need shelter from the wind and wet snow. When their hair gets wet, it is harder for the hair to trap warm air around them. At Living History Farms, there are sheds for the animals to go into when the wind is strong or it’s snowing hard.

Sheep also have their own winter coats. Sheep are covered in a fiber called wool. The matted wool strands in a sheep’s coat are very strong and thick. The wool strands create pockets of warm air around the sheep’s body. Wool can also soak in lots of water before it reaches the sheep’s skin, helping to keep them warm even when it’s raining or snowing.


All of our farm animals get lots of food that is good for them in the winter. Good food makes their body strong and gives them energy to keep warm. Pigs often eat more in winter when it is very cold. The work of eating can keep them warm too! When animals like horses and cattle eat oats and hay, their stomachs give off heat as they digest the food.


Pigs and chickens have their own houses to protect themselves from the cold. Museum farmers put hay in these houses for the animals in case they want to snuggle in and keep warm.

How about you, LHF Kids? Do the animals at your house like to be outside when it’s cold? Do they play in the snow? What do you do to keep them warm and safe?