Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Chickens in the Cold

Our flock of chickens has been living here for so many generations that they've adapted pretty well to the cold.  When we first got chickens, and we only had a few of them, we used to box them up into the nesting boxes on cold nights, with only enough space for each chicken to sit.  They were able to keep this small space warm with their body heat and would be quite cozy in the morning when we let them out.

Now, we have too many chickens for this to be practical, but they seem to be fine as long as they have protection from the elements and (of course) lots of food. 

The two body parts that are most vulnerable to frost bite on a chicken are the comb and the feet.  We protect their feet by giving them a thick layer of dry hay to scratch and lie in.  As for the combs, well, roosters have one of two types of comb.  Some have tall combs that are really easily frozen and some have short, wide combs that are less susceptible.  We only keep the roosters with the short combs for breeding.
A rooster with a short comb (but some frost damage on his feet)

Sunday, February 12, 2012

Goats in the Cold

Imagine lying cozily in a soft bed with food piled all around you, listening to the storm raging outside.  Your friends are around you so you won't be lonely, and when you are hungry, you can just reach out for a snack.  That's how I like my goats to go through a cold snap.

When I first started to keep goats, I did  what I thought was a favour for them by buying the best alfalfa hay I could find.  It was a nasty shock to find the poor animals shivering violently as soon as it started to get cold.  I turned to my goat "bible", Goat Husbandry, and I will always be grateful to David MacKenzie for his clear explanation of this problem.

Goats eat fast, swallowing their food barely chewed into their rumen, or first stomach.  In the rumen, bacteria start to break it down and they create a lot of heat in this process.  The rumen becomes a kind of portable central heating system for the goat.  If the food in the rumen is easily digested, the fuel for the heating system is quickly used up and the furnace goes out.  If the food in the rumen is coarse, the heat lasts much longer.

Now, when the weather turns very cold, I break out a couple of bales of coarser hay for the herd.  (It's still tasty hay, just not as fine as what they normally get.)  I pile it up everywhere in the barn so that they can use it as a bed as well as dinner, and they get through the cold snap with barely a shiver.

(all photos by Laura Kelsey)

Friday, February 10, 2012

Surviving the Cold

When we hear that an arctic front is moving south, we prepare for extreme cold.  We bank as much snow as possible against the house and barn walls to keep the cold out.  We also made sure the downstairs wood stove was ready to go, with a good supply of wood nearby.  Lighting the stove in the basement keeps the floor warm, which makes an incredible difference to the comfort level on the main floor, and it also keeps stuff from freezing in the cold room.

The horses were both born and bred in the Cariboo and don't seem to mind the cold.  We have horse blankets and space in the barn, but most winters, we don't use either of these things.  We just make sure the horses have warmed water to drink and give them extra hay.  When the temperature dropped to near -40 recently, I let them out into the area where we store the round bales of hay and they were able to free-feed all night long.  Now that it has warmed up and they're back in their paddock, Monty is protesting.

(photo by Laura Kelsey)

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Moonlight Interlude

The night's silence was broken by the sharp, explosive WWHHOOOF! of air through horse nostrils, waking me.  For a few seconds, I lay still, listening.  When I heard the horses' alarm signal again, then once more,  I jumped out of bed, threw the window open, and scanned the barnyard for trouble while yelling, "What's going on over there?!"

I could see the horses staring intently toward the bottom of the field.  Everything else seemed normal, but Monty blew again.  I went downstairs and let the dogs out to start investigating while I slipped into a snowsuit and boots.  Floyd's big, booming bark rang out, but it was the sound of his "Guard Dog is Now on Duty" announcement, not the more excited bark he gives when he spots an intruder.  Charlie, who only barks when he's alarmed or playing, wasn't saying anything.

It seemed that there was no problem out there, but I was dressed, so I went out anyway to look around.  The full moon lit the field brightly.  Monty was putting on a show, prancing out into the field with his tail up, like a war charger going to meet the enemy, but the dogs beside him were just sniffing around calmly.  Bree had stopped paying attention altogether.

Probably, a predator had passed by and the horses hadn't liked it.  We've had lots of wolves in the area lately and seen their tracks after they've hunted their way down the creek.  There have also been lynx tracks everywhere in the past few days.  However, there are also more rabbit and vole tracks than I've ever seen, so the predators should be well fed.

Echoing Floyd, I made my own announcement, calling out, "Whoever you are, just keep on moving!  There's a human on guard duty here, too!"  Then I stood for a few minutes enjoying the moonlight and the sharpness of the -15 degree air on my face, before calling the dogs in and going back to bed for the final hour of the night.

Friday, February 3, 2012

Goose Who Runs with Dogs

Guest post/photos by Laura Kelsey

The geese are training
Wings wide amid falling leaves
Tobias is there

The swans encircle
A lone feathered friend
Tobias is there

When the sun returns
A 'V' on the horizon
Tobias is here