Sunday, December 6, 2009

Winter hath come with a vengenace

After being lulled by a spectacular November, the cold came rushing in night before last.  I left for market as daylight was just breaking.  Every morning except Saturdays, when I have to be at market early, I take a walk around and make sure everything is okay.  My weather station died in the night, so I didn't see how cold it was.  Had I known, I would have gone out with the flashlight to check for frozen water tanks.  The weather station let me down in another way.  It is also my alarm clock;  alas, I got up an hour and 45 minutes later than usual.  The deer hunter's headlights coming up the drive woke me or I would probably have been a good bit later.  In my rush to get milk loaded and be on my way, I didn't feel the cold.

Brad, one of our newer milkers, was on deck Saturday.  He called me as I was on my way home from market.  Not only was it cold, but it had remained cold all day, never getting above freezing.  When he got there, the water tank inlet was frozen.  The cows had managed to knock a hole in the ice and had drained the tank dry, but one tank of water is not enough for 13 animals!  They were thirsty.

Luckily Clay and I had emptied the tank near the barn and moved it near the holding pen, where we can fill it by hand in cold weather.  The automatic watering system is of no use once the cold sets in.  When I got home, I got out of my market clothes and into my work clothes and insulated boots and went to work.  It didn't take me long to find one of the water tank heaters, but the other is lost.  I put the one I found into the tank by the barn and found the heavy duty extension cord.  I could only hope that it worked.  Then I went out to the east pasture to see what I could do about the tank that was frozen up.  The answer was nothing.  Even the quick drain hydrant was frozen solid.  Since it was in the open position, there was no quick draining, and the water couldn't get through the frozen coupling on the tank.  So I just turned it off and consoled myself that at least it didn't matter that I couldn't find the water heater for that tank.

Brad is new, but he has good intuitions.  He had taken the cows out to the east pasture but hadn't fed hay on the off chance that I wouldn't be able to get the water running out there.  That was a smart move.  I would never have been able to get them back to the barn, where they could get water from the tank with the heater.

This morning I went out hoping that the heater had worked and that they had been able to get to water through the night.  Yes!  Water wasn't frozen.  They had drunk it right down to the bottom.  I refilled it, knocked the ice out of the calves' water tank, hauled the hose back into the milk room and got my mind wrapped around the winter chores that lie ahead of me over the next three months. 

This is my first winter with the chickens.  I wish now that I had let the bedding build up as insulation.  What, did I think that it was going to stay in the 50s until Christmas?  Oh, well, we will start this week adding fresh bedding over the old as the winter wears on.  They have two waterers, so I bring one in the house at night to thaw, take it out in the morning and bring the other inside to thaw during the day.  I'll stop in at TSC and see what they have in the line of heated waterers.  So many new things to learn!

The hens are laying pretty well, three or four eggs every day for the last four days.  I think they are getting the hang of it.  I wonder if this is the best they will do until the days start to lengthen?  My friend Phyllis says they are very dependent on day length, more so than the cold, and I should see production start to go up late December.

I really need to get this whole chicken operation under control before I start my next project, but I will tell you that I have 125 tilapia ordered for delivery next spring.  Stay tuned for more on why I am doing that, and what I hope to learn about fish.

Well, it's time to go out and count the girls.  I still count them every night.  After all of the losses last summer, I just need the reassurance that there are still 15 birds in that Moop each night.  If it is too dark, then I touch each one to count them.  I love the feel of their feathers under my hand.

I just went out to the Moop.  There are only 14.  Buster is in there, so it is one of the girls.  There is still a whisper of light out.  I will check back in ten minutes and count again.  Hopefully I will be writing that they are all home after my return trip out there.

Four more trips.  There are only 14.  I had to button up the Moop.  I saw a chicken wandering by herself in the woods today.  Maybe she is broody and sitting on a nest of eggs.  Maybe she was sick and went off by herself to die.  I saw the them down by the creek today.  Maybe a critter got her.  Maybe she will be waiting for me in the morning . . .

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