Posts Tagged ‘winter’

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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It’s April 7th today, theoretically six weeks from last frost.  The three feet of snow on my lawn (plus the inch that fell yesterday) suggest that my plans to plant the main garden on Victoria Day are more than a little optimistic.  It’s -7 Celsius, with no day forecast to be above freezing until the end of next week, at the earliest.  Bleh.


I started artichokes in February, twelve weeks from last frost.  They’re a couple of inches tall, now, contributing to the living room jungle.   My permanent windowsill herbs have gone a little nuts; there is a brief span, spring and fall, when the sun is strong enough to really get them growing, and still low enough in the sky to shine directly in the south window.   My scheffelara has grown a foot in the last few weeks.


seed starts


I sat down this afternoon with a bag of dirt and a bag of seeds.  The result is an inability to find my kitchen table.  Again.  Today’s focus was mostly herbs and flowers; I decided not to pot up any more tomatoes until it looks like spring might actually come, as they do seem to get leggy if I start them too soon.  But we’ve got flats of calendula, zinnia, rudbeckia, pansies, dianthus, and basil on the go, now.  Potential beauty, beautiful potential, right there in my kitchen.  Planting seeds feels like such a hopeful thing to do; an act in defiance of this apparently never-ending winter…



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Well, I looked out my window, and discovered that winter has properly arrived:



Lately, we’ve been craving heartier food – root veggies, meat, and big bowls of stew – our bodies have known for a while that winter was coming.  We’ve been cooking up a storm, and Baby M’s ever-growing list of allergies and sensitivities has meant we’ve needed to be creative in our culinary adventures.  We can’t eat beef, dairy, or soy.  Cabbage, eggs, wheat, almonds, sunflower seeds, and beans are all questionable, and need further testing, so we are avoiding them at the moment, as well.  These restrictions eliminate many of our favorite go-to recipes, which has led to the invention of a whole bunch of tasty new recipes…ones that I suspect will stay in frequent rotation even when (if?) Baby M outgrows his allergies – they are that good.  In fact, some of them I could see becoming new comfort foods around here.  Two recent hits have been Stuffed Pumpkin and Pork and Sweet Potato Stew.


Stuffed Pumpkin:


I start with a proper pie pumpkin, partly because they are sweeter, and partly because that’s what we have grown.  They tend to be smaller than jack-o-lantern pumpkins, so the recipe may need to be doubled if you want to use a bigger pumpkin.  Also, I tend to cook big pots of rice, then use them in multiple recipes; I often cook the rice in chicken stock to give it some flavor.  If you are using plain white rice cooked in water, I recommend dissolving a bullion cube or two in a small amount of boiling water and pouring it over the rice mixture, or your stuffing will be pretty bland.  If you are gluten-free, watch the sausages, as most seem to have some sort of gluten-y ingredient like bread crumbs.


1 pie pumpkin

1 onion ( I happened to use a red one the day I took the picture below, but any kind will do)

4 stalks celery

2 farmer sausages or garlic sausages

4 cups cooked white rice (preferably cooked in chicken stock, as noted above)

2 tsp poultry seasoning (a generous amount, to taste)

1/2 tsp black pepper (or more, to taste)

salt to taste


Cut the pumpkin in half, and scoop out the seeds. Set in a roasting pan or on a cookie sheet. Chop the celery and onions finely. Chop the sausage into smallish bite-sized chunks (I cut it into 1/4″ half-rounds). Mix the sausage, celery, onions, and spices into the rice, and stuff this mixture into the pumpkin halves. Bake, covered, at 350 for 1.5 to 2 hours, until pumpkin is soft.  We usually use a roasting pan, but have faked it with a cookie sheet and some foil on one occasion.  You can remove the cover for the last 30-45 minutes of cooking time if you like crunchy bits – sometimes we do, and other times we don’t – it’s completely personal preference.  If there is stuffing mixture left over, put it in a covered baking dish or make it into a packet using aluminum foil, and bake it alongside the pumpkin; it can be used when you are serving.




Pork and Sweet Potato Stew:


This was last night’s hit.  We were not feeling like spending a lot of time in the kitchen, and needed something that we could just throw together and ignore.  We had pork in the freezer that needed using up, and we came up with this gem:


4 thick pork chops, cubed (we used pork chops, because that was what was in the freezer needing to be used up.  You could also cube a pork roast or tenderloin.  Just make sure there’s at least a couple of pounds of meat)

2 large sweet potatoes, cubed

2 large onions, chopped roughly

4-5 stalks celery, chopped

2 chicken bullion cubes, dissolved in 2 cups boiling water

3 bay leaves

1 tsp sage (or more, to taste)

1/2 tsp black pepper (or more, to taste)

salt to taste


Put all ingredients in a large roasting pan. Cook in oven, covered, at 350 F for about one hour, or until sweet potatoes are soft and the pork is falling-apart done.  You can eat this with bread, like my husband does, or have it over rice, which is what I did, or just enjoy it as-is.  This is really a spectacular meal for such a short ingredient list and for such easy preparation!


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Being the total farming newbies we are, we were not quite sure if the goats had actually gotten bred.  We know there had been some significant trying going on, but it wasn’t clear if the buck’s equipment would be in proper working order quite so early, and the goats weren’t looking all that fat.  I’ll tell you, halfway through my pregnancy, I am looking a whole lot fatter than the goats were on Friday (which would have been approaching term for them, if they’d been bred).


Well, it turns out, they were.  We were in town for a coffee with my father yesterday, and did not get home until just after dark.   We pulled the car up near the barn, so Hubby could see to do the evening chores – I’ll admit, I stayed in the car where it was warm.   Hubby was having trouble rounding everyone up, though, so I got out to help a bit.  It was about then that we realized there were extra bodies in the pen.  Very teeny bodies – two of them.  Missy and Saffron were the two that should have been bred for sure, and were also the two who would not go in; upon closer examination, it was Missy who was covered in gore, so at least we knew who the little guys belonged to.


Missy is a first-time mom, and it shows.  She had the babies in a snowbank outside, instead of on the nice clean straw in the barn, and it looks like she had them and just kind of walked away.  They were still wet when we found them, shivering in the snow, and their little ears were frozen stiff.  They did not look like they’d managed to stand yet, and they were both looking pretty weak.  We scooped them up in some towels and took them inside to warm them up and dry them off.  I put a panicked message in to a homesteading board I frequent, and got immediate advice – get those little guys warm and dry, and go out and milk some colostrum from the mom to get into them, stat.  Without it, the babies would probably die.


So, back out to the barn we went, to milk a skittish first-time mom while kneeling in the snow, pregnant and tired.  That didn’t go so well.  I checked Saffron, and discovered she is ‘bagging up’ – she’s starting to produce colostrum, too – she will probably have babies soon, herself.  Well, we took some colostrum from Saff, who stood pretty quietly and saved a great deal more frustration and swearing, and went back in to feed the babies.  That went over well, and eventually they were warmed and fed enough to put back out with their mom.  At about midnight.


This morning, we found both babies doing okay, but not as perky as I’d like, especially the girl, who seems to be the weaker of the pair.  It wasn’t clear if Missy was letting them nurse, so we tried putting them on her.  They nosed around, but ended up sucking on her elbow, or her fur – if this is how instinct operates, I have to admit, I’m not impressed.  Unfortunately, the couple of times the babies did get close, Missy walked away.   We decided to give her a couple more hours before interfering any further.  I was afraid I was going to have to try to hand milk her again, but at lunchtime, we went out, put Missy on the milking stand, and got the babies to latch on.  Missy did not look too impressed, but she stood still for it…more or less.    We’ll follow up by doing that a couple more times, but the babies are looking stronger, so they may be able to manage it on their own, now, especially if Missy has finally gotten the idea of what she’s supposed to be doing.  We’ll see, tonight.


In the meantime, some gratuitous cute kid pictures:

The doeling

The buckling

Both kids together

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