Archive for the ‘weather’ Category

As promised, a return to your regularly scheduled programming.  Around here, the regularly scheduled programming seems to be…winter.


snowy walking

You’ll notice, though, that there is a little bit of ground showing under the trees, which is somewhat encouraging, at least.


This is the time of year when I would normally be pulling out all the stops with seed starting.  Generally, we re-arrange the living room to make space for all my seed flats.  This year, with the baby coming, I agreed to keep the gardening (and therefore the seed starting) to a minimum.   This is not the sort of agreement I tend to be any good at sticking to, and Hubby was well aware of that, but…


lonely flat of seed starts

I’m sure you’ll agree I have showed remarkable restraint.  That’s a pretty lonely half-flat of starts.  It’s the only one in the house (so far), believe it or not.


On the bright side, the tomatoes are starting to peek up!


tomato starts


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Cabin Fever

It’s been a long winter.   And a cold one.


In fact, I believe I heard on the CBC radio that it’s been the coldest winter on record for Saskatchewan.  I believe it…it’s been basically -30 since the beginning of December!



that's a lot of snow!

that’s a lot of snow!


I don’t normally mind winter.  It’s easier to add layers to warm up than it is to take layers off to cool down (in summer), since there’s only so much you can take off!  Winter is a good time for resting, catching up on crafts and reading, and recovering from the busyness of spring, summer, and fall.  I thought that I would be extra-grateful for the down time this year, as pregnancy can really take a round out of a girl.  But…


But I’m bored with winter now.  We all are, here.  We’ve been cooped up too long, and even our decent-sized house starts feeling pretty small after a few months of hardly leaving it.  Normally, we would go out for walks, maybe go skiing, hang out in the barn…do stuff.  But in anything below -25, especially with a wind, we’re reluctant to go too far with Baby M.  He doesn’t seem to mind being out, but then again, he doesn’t seem to understand about frostbite, either.


The critters have been cooped up, too, since we keep the barns and coops closed up if it’s below -25…which has been most of the winter.  They are starting to get pretty restless, just like us.


I’ve tried to make good use of the downtime, and keep my mind busy, if not my body.  I’ve had some success with that, and I’ll be talking about what I’ve accomplished in a future post, but I have to say, I’m just done with winter.  We’re ready for spring.

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Well, we thought we had done okay with the critters in that month-long stretch of -30C temperatures, but now that it’s warmed up and we’re having a chance to really examine everyone in the sunshine, we’re finding some frostbite on the chickens, particularly on the combs, and, on some of the roosters, the wattles.


Rooster with frostbite on his comb

Rooster with frostbite on his comb


We think it has to do with humidity. Last winter, and even earlier this winter, the chickens weathered colder temperatures without issue; we’ve seen -40 with no frostbite at all. However, those were all short cold snaps – a few days, at most. This time, there were only three days in a month-long stretch where it was warm enough to open up the barn and coops and let the critters roam around outside.


Normal comb

Normal comb


With so many creatures breathing in such a confined space, the humidity does build up right along with the body heat. Especially in the barn, where we have a coop of chickens next to two stalls full of goats, it can get almost muggy after a few days with the doors all closed up tight. Interestingly, it was the roosters in the barn coop that seem to have suffered the worst frostbite, even though that barn would have been warmer than the small coop.


Frostbite turns the skin black, and, after a while, the dead skin sloughs off, leaving a smooth surface (unlike the usual ridges and texture of a rooster comb). We don’t normally do much of anything about the frostbite after it’s happened (we prefer prevention), but we do monitor the affected chickens, as sometimes there is a little blood when the dead skin is coming off. The blood itself is usually minimal, but if it starts attracting the attention of the other chickens, it can become a problem, as they will peck at it and cause much bigger issues. We’ve had to quarantine a badly affected rooster in our first year. He didn’t even have bad frostbite…but he did bleed a teeny bit, and the hens went after him like sharks.


You can see some lighter-colored pinkish spots on the comb, where the dead skin has started to come off.

You can see some lighter-colored pinkish spots on the comb, where the dead skin has started to come off.


It looks like a couple of roosters are going to lose parts of their combs, and a few have black spots on their wattles. Nobody is bleeding, which is good. We are going to have to revise our tactics for long cold spells, though, and find a way to air out the coops to keep that humidity down.


Poor rooster!

Poor rooster!


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Well, the cold snap in the US seems to be over, now, and our own month-long run of -30 C temperatures seems to have broken, as well.  I noticed a recent spike in traffic to a few of my posts from the last couple of winters, but didn’t really draw the connection until just now…folks have been searching for information on how to manage livestock in extreme cold, but my poor visitors have mostly gotten anecdotes about me feeling sorry for myself and about frozen-solid chickens.  I thought that even a belated post might be useful to somebody someday, so here are some observations about coping with extreme cold.


winter pic

I’m not going to say much about dressing for the cold, since that’s been done to death on the internet.  Dress in layers, and take layers off as you become warm.  Make the outer layer windproof if you can.  Windchill is much more dangerous than just cold, especially if you are only outside for short periods – an hour or two – Hubby routinely goes out to shovel for a couple of hours at a time in -30, as long as there’s no windchill.  Of course, he’s acclimatized to this weather, and appropriately dressed, more or less.  He’s never gotten frostbite, even though he doesn’t make much effort to cover his face; the moustachesicles get pretty impressive sometimes:



The  chickens seem to cope pretty well with the cold, overall.  Our breeds are suited to colder temperatures, but we don’t heat the coop, even when it’s -40.  Our main tactic has been to insulate; our primary coop is an old shed, and we stack old bales of hay and straw around the structure to cut the wind and keep it warm.  We try to get the stacks as high as the heads of the chickens on the top rung of the roost, as someone has used the shed for a target for shotgun practice, so it’s anything but airtight, and we don’t want anyone to get frostbite when they’re sleeping.  You don’t actually want the coop to be totally airtight; you need some airflow to keep it from getting too humid, which will cause problems with frostbite.  The birds also get a deep layer of bedding, and as much feed as they want.  They eat half again as much at -40 C as they do at zero degrees or above, and they need all of that energy to keep warm.   We have had some issues with frostbite in the past; Gallus, our original rooster, had a pretty spectacular comb until he encountered his first major winter freeze.  We’ve since learned to keep the coop shut on really cold days, which keeps the birds inside, and also helps keep the temperature up.  While I’m sure it hurt to lose that comb, it doesn’t seem to have slowed Gallus down too much.


Before his first encounter with real cold

Before his first encounter with real cold


All healed up, but not much of a comb left

All healed up, but not much of a comb left


The frostbite itself makes the combs and wattles turn black in the frozen parts, and eventually peels off.   If you come across this, you will need to monitor that the other chickens aren’t pecking at it and keeping it from healing, as it sometimes bleeds as the damaged tissue sloughs off.


One challenge is collecting the eggs before they freeze so solid that they crack, which takes no time at all in -40.  The cracked eggs are okay to eat, as long as the shells are clean; we just thaw them on the kitchen counter overnight.  They need to be used immediately once they’ve thawed, though, as bacteria can get in through the crack.  Whatever we can’t eat ourselves, we feed to the cats and dogs, who really appreciate the extra protein.  Eggs that have frozen but not cracked are fine, and we just put them in the cold room to thaw.  As far as we’ve been able to tell, they keep just as well as unfrozen eggs, and behave the same when you cook with them, so we don’t even check anymore, beyond looking for the cracked ones, of course.


When it gets below about -25 C, we tend to leave the barn shut up, and the body heat from the animals adds at least ten degrees in there.  The barn cats are bright enough to stay inside, and we’ve built them a cozy insulated shelter out of hay bales.  So far, they’ve never had any issues with frostbite, even on their ears.  However, the barn cats are outdoor critters, and acclimatized to the cold through the fall and early winter, and they know enough to snuggle up together in the shelter.  Like the chickens, the cats are free-fed – we put out bowls of food, and they can have as much as they want.  They put on several pounds each of fat in the fall, which helps them stay warm, too.


If we had a sudden huge drop in temperatures like happened so recently in the US, though, I would consider bringing outdoor cats and dogs inside, or locking them in a garage or barn, as they may not be equipped to deal with the cold.   At the very least, they need some sort of insulated shelter, including insulation between them and the ground, that is windproof, dry, and small enough to warm up with just their body heat.  Stacked bales covered with a tarp would probably do, but remember to insulate the bottom, too, either using a layer of bales, or a thick bed of straw or blankets.


The goats and alpacas mostly cope fine, as well, but again, they grow a thick coat in the fall, and we give them extra grain as it gets colder outside – the colder it is, the more hay and supplements they get.   We take out warm water twice a day, and they drink their fill immediately.  The buckets freeze over in a couple of hours, or less when it’s really cold.  We’ve found that the goats drink more when the water is taken out warm, rather than cold, and it probably helps them maintain a good temperature.  Some people say that the buckets freeze slower if you use cold water, which may be true, but for the small difference it makes in freezing time, we go with the warm, especially because the goats drink so much more when we take the warm water out.   I have heard of people putting sweaters on their goats, which is probably a good idea in a sudden cold snap; we’ve never done it because we worry they would lose their winter coats.


If you are milking in winter, make sure the udder, and especially the teats, are completely dry when you are done.  We minimize trimming the udder as much as possible, and leave some fur, especially on the back, even when we do trim.  I just brush the furry parts of the udder thoroughly with a soft brush before milking to make sure there’s no crud falling into my milk bucket.  I take a towel out with me to dry everyone off after milking.   However, since I’m not fond of milking -30, we’ve taken to drying the girls off by late November.  While this doesn’t maximize our milk production, it does minimize everyone’s discomfort.   We freeze milk and make (and freeze) lots of cheese in the summer, to tide us over.


Our biggest issues with the goats has been with kidding during cold snaps.  Our first year, we were kidding in March, and at least four kids came when the temperatures were below -20.  All of those kids got frozen ears, and two lost part or all of their ears.


Poor Luna lost her ears to freezing at birth.

Poor Luna lost her ears to freezing at birth.


We’ve since started breeding for kidding in late April or later; this year’s kids will come in mid-May.   I know of breeders with unheated barns who treat kids like day-old chicks; they confine them using straw bales, and hang a heat lamp overtop.  Other breeders keep their kids indoors in playpens for the first couple of weeks.  Either tactic works fairly well if you are bottle feeding, but not if you’re dam-raising your kids.   We’ve learned to keep the pregnant does confined for the last few weeks of their pregnancy, and we do our best to keep the maternity stall well-insulated and draft-free.  The kids are most vulnerable to freezing just after birth when they are wet, so it’s important to make sure they are dried off quickly, which has involved us ‘helping out’ with towels when momma wasn’t working fast enough.   When they are cold, kids tend to stand all hunched up with their back arched, and look really miserable.   If we see that going on for any length of time in cold weather, we bring the kids into the house periodically for ‘warm-up’ sessions, and take them back out to their dams every couple of hours to eat.


We’ve had kids collapse from cold before; if you’re quick, they can recover without issue, but you need to get them warm, fast.  We’ve used 2L plastic juice bottles filled with hot water from the tap, wrapped in towels and tucked around the kid.  Remember, too, that kids need extra food when it’s cold, and make sure your does are producing enough, and/or you add a bit extra to the bottles if they’re living in an unheated barn.


Cold is not bad if you are prepared for it, but I can imagine it would be awfully miserable if you didn’t have, and couldn’t get, appropriate clothing and supplies.  I know some of my American friends really struggled.  Hopefully everyone has come through okay, and is at least starting to warm up now!


Bundled Up




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The weather has been odd, at best, this year.  Spring was very late for us; we still had snow on the north sides of the hedges on Victoria Day, which is the third weekend in May.  Then we had a couple weeks where it was hot and dry, then it decided to rain…and rain…and rain…


A week ago Friday, we got three inches of rain in a few hours.  Our normal annual precipitation is 12 to 14 inches.  Of course, there hasn’t been a normal year since we moved here in 2011; it’s been one wet year after another.  It’s gotten to the point that the roads are so soggy that they dissolve under any sort of heavy traffic, like, for instance, tractors out doing seeding, and car-swallowing potholes appear more or less overnight.  As well, with the ground saturated to begin with, the roadside sloughs creep a little higher with every rain, until the roads are underwater, or just wash away entirely.  Of the five routes i could normally choose from to get to work, we’re down to one, and there is a slough within a few inches of wiping that road out, as well.  If it came to it, I could take a ferry to the other side of the river, but that would add an hour or so to my commute.


Today, the rain finally stopped for a bit, and some of the roads started drying out.  We took a peek in the garden, and it’s…bad.  Really bad.  Like chest-high thistles bad.  On the bright side, from our vantage point, we could see potatoes, onions, lots of beans and sunflowers, some squash plants, and some corn, so at least the rain did not rot all the seed. We couldn’t see the carrots, spinach, or beets, but I don’t know if that was because they haven’t sprouted, or if they’re just obscured by weeds.   Now, we just have to go in there and find our vegetable rows in all that weedy mess…

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We really enjoy our chickens.  Roasted, barbequed, or in soups…and sometimes their personalities are cute, too.


Two years ago, we ordered fifty chickens, without quite knowing where we would put them.  We built a coop in one corner of the barn, but we discovered (the day we brought those chicks home) that it was drafty when it was six degrees outside and raining sideways.  So, we ended up with fifty chicks taking up residence in our bathtub for a week or so, until we could make alternate arrangements.


2013 chicks


This year, we ordered 25 more chicks, to replace the hens that the fox got last summer, and also with the intent of boosting our egg production, as we’ve found it astonishingly easy to unload eggs, even at a slightly profitable price.  There are other folks around here selling eggs for less than we charge, but we have an advantage:  one of our ‘bonus’ chickens that the hatchery included in our order lays green eggs.  Apparently a green egg or two is worth at least a dollar a dozen!


2013 Americauna chick


With that in mind, we ordered ten straight run Americaunas, the breed that lays the green eggs.  Apparently they can also lay blue, brown, and pink eggs, depending, so I’m hoping that we get at least five hens, and that at least a couple of them lay colored eggs.



2013 Americauna chick


We also got 15 Black Sex Link hen chicks.  We’ve never had them before, but I really liked the idea of minimizing the number of new roosters around here.  We still have plenty from the 25 or so we butchered in 2011; apparently we don’t eat chicken as often as I thought.  These BSL girls are supposed to be good layers, and very hardy in cold weather.  Hopefully this is true, as our winters are very long and cold.



2013 Black Sex Link chick


Knowing we had chickens coming, we had a plan, and even a place to put them.  The weather had been quite nice for several weeks, and there is a reasonably protected corner of the barn we thought we could reclaim; the coop we built for the 2011 chicks is, of course, occupied by the 2011 chickens, so that wasn’t an option.   Then, of course (of course!), it got chilly, and the rain came.  Great for my garden; not so great for day-old chicks.   At least this time we didn’t have to scramble to put a hook in over the bathtub to hang the heat lamp on…



2013 Americauna chick


Those chicks will be evicted as soon as the weather turns, though…

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The power went out on Monday night.


Actually, it was a little more exciting than that.  We had a huge thunderstorm, including what I originally thought was a tornado, but was probably actually a plow wind.   We spent a fair bit of Monday night in the basement, hoping that none of the trees came down on the house or car, and that the house and car would still be where we left them when the wind subsided.  I won’t recount the terrified mad rush to the basement after the wind took on that freight train tenor, nor the discovery of the bed being soaked from sheets of rain blown horizontally through the bedroom window.  We slept (eventually, uneasily) in the living room, me and Baby M in the lazyboy and Hubby on the couch, and woke up at sunrise to a swath of destruction which included a couple of saplings down on the west side of the house and the power lines, sudden long views to the north, east, and south, due to almost all of the big trees being down, and a significant accumulation of standing water in the low spots on the property.  Yuck.


With no power and no phone, we decided to take a drive around the neighborhood.  That was when we realized we’d been really, really lucky.  A couple of neighbors lost their roofs, and most had wrecked grain bins strewn around their yards.  There were big trees down on houses and garages and vehicles.  Over half our neighbors could not get out of their laneways, due to trees having fallen across their roads, and nobody had any phone service or power.  It is worth noting here that the average age of our neighbors is well over 65; one couple down the road is in their 90’s.  There are a few younger families, but not many.  We are probably the youngest couple here by a good ten years.


Fortunately, these older neighbors remember how to cope without power, have a real sense of community, and are a tough bunch.  It wasn’t long before people were out with 4×4’s and tractors dragging trees off each others’ lanes, hooking up generators, and patching houses.  Hubby went over to one hard-hit place to help patch the roof, and took a 5-gallon bottle of water with him, as they did not have any to drink – everyone here is on a well or a cistern with an electric pump, you see.  About half of the people here have generators, though, so potable water was locally available, at least.


We fared just fine, here.  I dug out the crank radio, and found a station that was on the air.  We have a collection of battery-operated and crank flashlights, as well as some old oil lamps, though we did not need them much, as sunset is after 9pm right now.  We made coffee on the Coleman camp stove, with bottled water that I insist on keeping on hand, and drank it with sweetened condensed milk – kind of a treat, actually!  When I saw how nasty the storm looked as it was rolling in, I got Hubby to bring in all the empty buckets around the place and fill them, in case the power went out (thank goodness!), so we had water for the livestock; we also collected plenty of rainwater for cleaning.   We ate ham sandwiches (trying to use up the ham and cheese that was not going to keep without refrigeration), instant noodles with added vegetables, grilled cheese sandwiches, and lots of fruit.  We lazed about (it was hot and muggy) and read lots.  On day two or three, I heated some water, which we dippered out of a five gallon bucket to each have a ‘shower’.   We were careful not to open the freezers, and while we lost a couple buckets of ice cream and a bunch of (previously) frozen fruit and vegetables, almost all of the meat was still frozen solid, even four days later, thank goodness.  The fruit and veg went to the chickens and goats, so it wasn’t a complete waste, anyhow.


I wouldn’t volunteer to do that again, but it’s good to know we can cope.  I was extremely glad for the crank flashlights and especially the radio – the radio announced it would be at least 24 hours before power could be restored, and might be several days, which allowed us to plan ahead and conserve our water; it was nice to have some contact with the rest of the world, even when the phone was down.  I do wish we had some convenient way of getting water from the cistern without electricity, though; that would have made life easier, especially with the baby – even being able to hand-wash some outfits and receiving blankets would have been nice, but we didn’t dare use that much water when we did not know how long we’d be without power.  Still, we did okay, and were able to eat hot meals and keep basically clean and entertained, plus having some extra to share with neighbors who did not have the necessities.


Yet again, basic preparedness paid off…

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