Monday, December 2, 2013

A Cozy Barn in the Wintertime - doing chores

Winter showed up early this year with a snow fall last week.  I'm not a fan of winter and do all I can to stay warm and cozy IN-side but there is one thing I love about a fresh snow fall - spending time in the barn.  That might not sound like it makes sense but we have a lovely old bank barn that is snuggled down into a hillside which protects it from the worst of the wind and blowing snow.  Inside there's a quiet that's hard to describe.  The snow deadens sounds and even the wind blowing past the open doors sounds different.  It's a peaceful surreal experience to stand at the back doors and look out over the snow covered hills - I always sigh with contentment and say to myself (and anyone who will listen) - wow - we live here.

Maybe-the-Donkey and the sheep seem content to be left to decide for themselves if they want to go outside.  They check out the weather and usually decide that warm and dry in the run-in is much more appealing.   Although they are noisy while waiting for their morning hay as soon as I throw it down they settle in to munching quietly.  They seem to have a little conversation each morning to decide who's day it is to eat beside Maybe who can be a bear when she's hungry!  Meanwhile the barn cats peek out from the bottom of the feeder warm and lazy from spending the night in a kitty pile under the leftover hay.  Once the watering trough is refilled and augmented with a stock tank heater to keep it from freezing chores are done for a few hours on that side of the barn.

The other side of the barn holds all our poultry. Right now we have chickens at various stages.  One pen holds mama and 11 late season hatchlings - these are the babies we heard peeping as we walked up to the house after being away for the Thanksgiving weekend.  Mama had hatched them out somewhere in the garden.  The chicks are feathered out now and sitting high up on the perch with mama.  I love listening to their contented sounds and how excited they get when mama wants to show they something - they all come running and peck and scratch just where she tells them.

Pen two is a feather-footed banty Cochin Mama with 4 teenagers.  Even after adding our last batch of 75 store-bought meat birds chicks to the pen for mama to take care of in late August these 4 original chicks are bonded to her.  They go everywhere together and since we had an extra pen we decided to let them stay together instead of being thrown in with the general population.

Our ducks stay together in a pen throughout the winter but in the spring time we have to separate them when spring-fever hits because the males tend to fight.  Rain or shine, snow or howling winds the ducks want to be outside.  They don't seem to mind even the worst weather - although huge snow drifts are a challenge.  They drink out of the potholes in the driveway when the snow melts and beg when I'm pumping water out of the cistern to water the other animals.  They particularly like to hang out around the back door in the winter because it's sheltered from the wind and on the south side so it catches lots of sun.

Our main pen holds our layer flock.  Brave and industrious they travel to the far reaches of the farm in the summer but when the snow flies they lose all ambition and are happy to stay inside where's it's warm and dry.  Entertainment comes in the form of pumpkins to peck - oh happy day!

One great blessing recently came from an unexpected source - Hydro One.  Our local electricity provider called and asked if we would like to be part of a new program for farms designed to help reduce our energy consumption.  They offered to install up to $3000.00 in LED light bulbs in the barn at no cost to us.  After double-checking the details - which seemed too good to be true - we said yes.  They sent out a nice young lady to make a count of how many bulbs we needed and several weeks later an electrician arrived to install them. 

Lighting has always been an issue in the barn.  Perhaps it's because I am getting older but I like to see what I'm doing!  In the past we tried to reduce our expenses by purchasing what we call curly-fry light bulbs.  We never had any success with them.  In cold weather they don't work well and we have had a few break which was a hazard to the animals. The new lights are rather strange looking specimens and don't look like any light bulbs l have ever seen before but I can tell you this - wow - they light up the barn in a way that no incandescent bulb ever did.  I was pleasantly surprised and they make doing chores even nicer.

Winter chores consist of refilling feeders, keeping pens tidy and trying to find ways to keep the water containers from freezing.  We've tried just about everything over the past years and have an assortment of waterers to rival TSC.  The east side of the barn has two windows which I replaced with hardware cloth for the summer but that side of the barn gets it's share of wind and snow blowing in so last year I covered the hardware cloth with plastic.  It didn't work as well as I had hoped.  This fall I had an epiphany - I have a collection of old windows (we drag all kinds of useful stuff off the side of the road)  and wouldn't you know - I had windows that fit perfectly.  I screwed the wooden frames right in and will be able to unscrew them in the spring in less than a minute (why didn't I think of that before??)  The pens are much warmer and even though we had a couple of nights at minus 16 the waterers didn't freeze.  We also have more chickens this year so their combined body heat also helps to keep the coop warmer.  Our other trick is heated dog bowls - it's a mixed blessing for birds.  It keeps the water defrosted but it makes a great perch and when birds perch they poop.  Eww.  I have plans and all the parts for a super-doper new heated watering system for the chickens but since my plumbing skills are nil I will need to watch some videos first and it probably won't get finished until next year.

Every year things get easier - or maybe we just get smarter!  Through trial and error that you can't learn in a book we have changed and adapted our routines and found what works best for us.  When I'm having a bad day I remember the first winter and having to climb over a fence with pails of water in the blowing snow to get into the barn - things are so much easier now!

I never look forward to winter but once it's here I remember it's not that bad.  Spending time with my son in that peaceful stillness beats living in the city ANY day!


  1. can I come for a visit in Jan to play with the critters? :)

  2. We just went through our first farm winter...already looking for ideas to make next winter easier. Thanks for sharing your ideas.


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