Ruffled Feathers and Spilled Milk

Farming with ducks and dairy goats, chickens and children.

Ready, Set, Mix.

Posted on | January 25, 2013 | 3 Comments

There is something special about preparing the farm for the approach of a winter storm.  Well, OK, here we actually call it a “wintry mix.”  To differentiate it from those of you that have real winter storms.  We may not get 21 inches of snow or wind chill causing negative temperatures (84 degrees below zero, New Hampshire?  Really?  Skiing seems like so much, um,, but we do occasionally get a snow, ice, and sleet “event.”  Which means the weather forecasters want to cover their butts by declaring that it is going to be cold and any type of precipitation is possible.  A lot of people sneer at this type of forecasting, but I think it is completely appropriate.

There have been plenty of Saturday mornings when I would have greatly appreciated a well-dressed person poking her head into my darkened bedroom to say, “Warning!  One of the dogs got into the trash and then barfed on the kitchen floor, the kids spilled the milk while fighting over the last of the Cocoa Crispies, someone wrote in permanent marker on the leather couch, and that broiler pan you decided not to wash after cooking salmon last night has left the entire house smelling like fish.  I don’t know exactly what the rest of the day holds, but it’s going to be bad.  Very bad.  Nix the idea of a delightful family hike, completing a 1,000 piece puzzle together, and reading quietly in the windowseat and plan on a day of cleaning, screaming, and spankings.”  Because sometimes it’s just good to get the jist of what’s ahead.  So you can be ready.  And sleep in for another hour before getting up to face it.

In any case, I’ll take whatever warning I can get.  So with cold precipitation and night time temperatures in the 20’s headed our way, me and Little went down to cover the garden.  We also gathered lettuce, radish, green onions, chard, and spinach in case the frost cover wasn’t enough protection and temps were colder than forecasted.  We especially checked over the broccoli and gathered whatever heads were ready.  We’ve been waiting for the broccoli to come in and I’d hate not to get a single taste of fresh broccoli if we lose the plants.

Then we carefully tucked in the beds, bent over the rows, securing the frost cover with rocks.

And as the wind picked up and bit into our cheeks, I couldn’t help but think that this type of work is what I love most about my little farm.  That there were small farmers everywhere, including up and down my street, pinning down frost covers and sheets and blankets with rocks, or logs, or old fence posts.  That they were spreading bales of straw, shaking it out as insulation, forking it over their crops.

That they battened down the hatches to cold frames made of discarded windows or leftover plastic sheeting.  They spent the morning filling their greenhouses with jugs and barrels of water, wrapped in black plastic, to soak up the daytime sun and help regulate nighttime temperatures.

That sometimes farming still comes down to the basics.  That, although some of the materials have changed, sometimes we are still doing things the way our grandparents did and their grandparents did before them.  Without a tractor or gasoline or a generator.  Just our hands and our backs and our children.

When the garden was ready, we headed out to the barn yard.  When the afternoon sun just touches the tree tops it means the warmest temperatures of the day have arrived and the hoses will run clear after last night’s freeze.

So we turned on the barn hydrant and let it fill the automatic waterers, rinsing out the ice chips and sludge from the day before, letting it run until the water was clear and clean and fresh.  Then we went around with a bucket, filling the waterers past their automatic shut off, hoping the extra water might keep them from freezing solid, and keep the animals in fresh water throughout the night.

The poultry got a heavy helping of cracked corn with their evening pellets.  Just to provide them with a bit of easily digestible energy for staying warm throughout the cold night.

All of the extra hay racks were hung and loaded to the brim.  So that there was space for everyone to get their fill.  And plenty of leftovers for a late night snack.

Th special needs populations were appropriately coddled.  We lowered the heat lamp for the young Silkies in the brooder room.  They’re fully feathered, but haven’t had to withstand 20 degree temperatures yet.

The expectant does were put into the kidding barn with a heat lamp and an extra ration of grain.  Charlotte and Vixen aren’t due until the first week of February.  But cold or rain seems to spur some of my goats into early deliveries.  Dairy goats can be drama queens like that.

Since any eggs left behind were sure to freeze, we hunted down every last egg and gathered them.

Even the ones some hens tried to hide on the very top of the hay rolls.

And as we inspected every last feeder and waterer, checked on each animal—-small and large, I wondered at how many farmers over how many years had walked through their barns before a winter storm.  Water buckets and pitchforks in hand.  Throwing down extra feed and extra bedding.  Settling their flocks, soothing their herds.   In a ritual as old, as familiar, as sacred, as farming itself.

Only when the chickens were finally taking to their roosts, safely sheltered under the eaves.

(Except for Blackberry.  Who was crouched by her waterer.  Even in her new pen.  Sigh.)

When even the weak were as comfortable….

….as the ones who didn’t even know it was cold outside.

When tummies were full and thirsts were quenched.  When the milk bucket and the egg basket were full.  When the last of the sun finally slipped below the trees, leaving nothing but a rosy remembrance.

Only then did we pass the care of the barn yard into the most capable of hands, er,…paws, and head inside.

I paused on my way back into the house.   Admired one of the hardy ones—-the ones that don’t need any care from a farmer at all.  Not even in a wintry mix.

And as I strained the milk over the kitchen sink and wiped the eggs, like the farmers that came before me, like the farmers down the street, like the farmers my children may be (Probably some of them.  Well, maybe one of them.  Definitely not the Big one, who plans to live in a subdivision where they burn people like me at the stake and put our heads on spikes by the community entrance gates as a warning to others.  Backyard chickens ??!!! NIMBY!!!), I glanced out the kitchen window.  At the moon rising in the east, over clear cold skies.

I knew those clear skies meant frigid night air.  With not even a wisp of cloud cover to protect the Earth or her creatures from falling temperatures.  Nothing except the protection we had provided.

But, no worries.  All that anticipated precipitation would be sure to bring clouds in the morning.  As a matter of fact, the forecasters were so sure of a “wintry mix”  that as I wrapped the broccoli to go in the fridge, the schools called.  The information officer left an automated message on the answering machine letting me know there would be an early release.  The children would be getting out of school at 11am.

Fine already.  Let’s mix it up.  The garden is covered.  The animals are sheltered.  And I do believe I have a new 1,000 piece puzzle somewhere around here….


3 Responses to “Ready, Set, Mix.”

  1. Laura
    January 25th, 2013 @ 3:59 pm

    This is one of your most poetic posts. Enjoy your well-deserved puzzle!

  2. Walnut
    February 1st, 2013 @ 11:42 am

    Rest assured that even the farmers with tractors and generators still go through pre-storm routines of caring for the animals, battening the hatches and uncovering the 3,000 things that need to be fixed- or for the current time- wired together. Trust me, we’re not all that different. A farmer at heart is a farmer, no matter how big or small.

  3. Barbara Eyster
    February 5th, 2013 @ 1:53 pm

    I enjoy your posts…this one in particular
    i grew up on a farm in the coldddd!! Midwest
    Tanya Henley Lam is a friend and she forwards it to me

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