It's been two months since we moved into the new house we built on the farm, and every morning when I walk into our great room I still can't believe how fortunate we have been to be able to make this dream come true. I used to love our old Portland style house in the city, my cute little cottage garden and being able to walk a few blocks to a restaurant. But as much as I thought that was where I was meant to be, there was something else calling to me, and I've found it here on the farm. Looking out the window and seeing our beautiful view of the surrounding hills and trees is such a peaceful way to start the day. I find that when I do my morning rounds to feed and check on all the chickens and turkeys, it has a way of centering me and reminding me to be grateful for this place we call home and all the simple pleasures that it offers us. We made lots of wonderful memories spending our first Christmas and New Years in the new house. I finally made time for holiday baking, which is something I hardly ever give myself permission to do because I always tell myself that it's not that important compared to all the other things I should be doing. But I find myself making more time to prioritize the little niceties these days, and it feels good. We've had a few small gatherings with close friends and family to break in the new house, and in what can be a lonely season for many, it makes me realize how fortunate we are to live this life and have people that we love to share it with.
Every season on the farm brings its share of hard work, and winter comes with its own set of challenges. Even on the days that I am focused on the hard stuff, I always try to remember to take time to appreciate the little moments of joy and beauty - these moments are always there, just waiting for you to notice them. We had record-setting cold temperatures this past week, which was a worry for me and for our older and more vulnerable members of the flock. We got 6.5 inches of snow followed by four unusually cold nights with low temperatures between 14 and 18 degrees and daytime temperatures not rising above the 20's. Then came the freezing rain which coated everything in 1/4 inch of ice. There are things that can be done to ensure the flock stays as safe as possible in the really cold temperatures, and of course I took every precaution I could to get everything set up to help them weather the storm by providing extra bedding in the coops, making sure there are no drafts in the coops, providing high-calorie treats to help keep everyone warm, and doing multiple health checks throughout the day to check for signs of cold stress that may warrant further action.
There are some modern conveniences that really help in this cold weather such as heated waterers. I have one in the big chicken coop and one in the turkey yard that keep the water from freezing. Of course these require a cord to plug in, and they are pretty large, so I don't have them in the smaller coops or in the coops that are too far from the house to drag a cord out to. That leaves three coops that I need to manually defrost the waterers in, and it only takes a couple of hours for water freezes in these temperatures. So one of my chores throughout the below freezing days is bringing out a tea kettle of hot water to melt the ice that has formed in the smaller waterers. Even if there was a way to avoid this chore, I would still probably make the same number of trips outside to check on everyone because things can go downhill fast in this weather for at risk members of the flock.
It was on one of my rounds to check on everyone that I noticed my oldest turkey Ringo, who is nearing nine years old, was not faring too well. It was the second day of the storm, and the snow had piled up almost everywhere in the turkey yard and the wind was blowing it around. I noticed as I watched him from the window in the house that he had taken shelter under a small tree. He was sitting in the snow and not really getting much protection from the wind and falling snow. Everyone else was sheltering either in the barn or under the chicken coop and occasionally moving around to get food and water, but Ringo was hunkered down for hours and not moving much. He even turned up his beak when I came out with treats which was not like him at all. He was starting to get small chunks of ice sticking to the feathers around his neck and it looked like he was starting to get hypothermic. Even though he is a very independent bird and hates to be told what to do, I felt it was in his best interest to put him in a large dog crate in a sheltered spot so that his feathers could dry off and he could warm up before the temperature dropped at night, and that's exactly what I did. Much to my relief he was back to his usual sassy self in the morning, and he was fine throughout the rest of the frigid weather. For whatever reason, that one day he needed my help and I'm happy that I saw the warning signs and took action to protect him.
I have several chicken coops housing various numbers and sizes of chickens, and for the most part everyone is able to stay warm enough in their coops with the necessary winter precautions. But I have one small coop that only has two chickens in it, a very small bantam named Peggy Sue that lives with a half-blind chicken named Bindi. These two girls had been getting picked on when they lived in two separate flocks, and now they have found a happy new life with each other. They are my favorite recent success story, and I sure didn't want anything to happen to them in the extreme cold, and there was a risk that they wouldn't be able to generate enough warmth with just the two of them to huddle together. For three nights I put them in a pet carrier in the shop / garage, and when temperatures rose above 20 degrees during the day I would put them back out in their coop for a few hours so they could stretch their wings.
I'm happy to say that everyone survived the storm and what were some scary temperatures for us here. We have finally made it above freezing, and the snow and ice that have been covering the ground for 10 days are starting to melt. Winter has a way of making me look forward to spring and summer, and I'm already planning this year's garden. I also can't wait to host gatherings with friends and family on our covered decks where we will take in the views, make memories, and share all of the wonderful things that go along with this farm life.