Sunday, January 29, 2012

Snow chickens

And so January is coming to a close.  What a different sort of winter this has been thus far.  We've had a couple of snows of around a foot, but none have stayed on the ground more than a few days.  Snow falls, snow melts, snow falls, snow melts.  Incredibly different than last winter when the snow started falling the first week of December and we didn't see the grass again until the last day of February.  Because of the many days of very little or no snow on the ground, the laying hens have been able to enjoy many days getting out of their pen and foraging around the yard.  I've been raising chickens now for about 12 years and one thing that has been very consistent is that the chickens do not like to go out in the yard when there is ANY snow on the ground.  That was until this year.  My youngest flock members of 22 Gold Buff pullets are 11 months old now.  While they won't go out in deep snow, an inch or two does not seem to deter them in the least.  In fact snow seems to fascinate them.  If I walk into the pen in the morning with snow on my boots, the girls all come running over and start pecking the snow on my boots.  When I let them out of their pen, the first thing they do is run over to the barn door that leads to the outside and start pecking at the snow.  I'm not quite sure what that behavior is all about, but as long as they are happy then I am happy.  But while the young hens go outside, the older hens are quite content to stay inside.  The older girls also have the opportunity to go into the yard, but they will walk to the door, look outside and turn around and head straight back to the pen.  Now that is how I am used to chickens acting.

Winter is one of my favorite times to just walk around the farm with the beagles.  There are not as many outside chores to fill up my time and so it is not unusual at all for us to go out for 2-3 hours or more on the weekend.  By the end of January, the days are getting long enough that on occasion I can sneak out for a quick evening walk.  We have been blessed quite often this month with some gorgeous sunsets.  Again, this is most unusual for this time of year.

This past week has marked two events that are a big signal to me that winter has turned the corner.  Oh sure we will have snow for 3 more months, but we are past the halfway point.  First is that the one of the older hens started laying again this week.  Every fall as the days get shorter, the older laying hens quit laying and molt their feathers.  When days start getting longer again, they start laying again.  Second is that when I walk out the door to go to work in the morning, there are birds singing.  Doesn't matter that most of what I hear are the usual winter resident Starlings and English Sparrows, they are singing.  They sing and I smile.  I love noticing the little changes as the seasons change.

Monday, January 16, 2012

Farming in a winter wonderland

Usually by this time of year, Mike is snug inside the house and planning for spring.  But with the popularity of winter farmer's markets growing, he planned out his plantings so that we would have some winter hardy plants to harvest.  One of those plantings was Brussels sprouts.  If this was last winter, the plants would be done by now, but this winter has been unusually mild and so the plants keep on going.  Unfortunately the timing of the January 14th market coincided perfectly with a lake effect snow event.  And on Friday the 13th, Mike was out in the garden harvesting Brussels sprouts by hand in the wind driven snow.  We actually have some good looking kale too, but after picking the Brussels sprouts, Mike had had enough of the cold and snow.  I don't blame him one bit.  After dinner and with the snow flying, he loaded up the SUV for the drive to market the following day.  This time of year we also sell eggs, flour, sprouts (broccoli, clover and bean mix this week) and also take along Covered Bridge Gardens popcorn and corn meal.  It fills the back of the Escape nearly to the roof.

Saturday morning the snow was coming down steady but not too bad as Mike headed out the door.  At 6am, I was just getting up to get ready for work at the clinic when Mike was leaving.  I leave the house for work a little after 8am and as I was getting my shoes on, Mike walked in the door.  Our county roads were not too bad, but when he crossed the county line, all heck broke loose.  The snow was coming down heavy and the construction zone on the interstate had drifted over.  Traffic was down to one lane and going about 10mph.  Mike drove through this for about 10 miles and had enough.  He turned around and headed home.  At the rate he was going, he might have made the market before it ended.  Maybe.

Such are the adventures of winter in northeast Ohio.  I don't mind winter so much, but the weather does complicate barn chores from time to time.  The chores I can finish in 20 minutes in the summer, take twice as long in the winter.  The water gets shut off in the barn with the cold weather and so I carry water from the house to the barn for the chickens.  Every night I bring the waterers inside to thaw them out and start over the next morning.

We ended up with about a foot of snow on Saturday.  By midnight on Saturday, the storm had passed and the skies cleared.  Sunday morning I woke up to the first below zero temps of the season with the low reaching 6 degrees F below zero.  With no wind, it was quite bearable and my walk to the barns to take care of the chickens was accompanied by a beautiful sunrise.  There was a pretty pinkish blue glow all around.

I often get asked how the chickens do in the cold temperatures.  They actually do very well.  The barn keeps them dry and out of the wind.  As I hauled fresh water to the barn Sunday morning and opened the barn doors, the laying hens all started cooing and gathering at the pen door when they saw me.  They know I bring them a treat of cracked corn every morning and they always act happy to see me.  By the time I got out to the barn, about a half dozen eggs had already been laid.  I do have to collect eggs more frequently in the cold weather because they will freeze and break open.  But the hens, they don't seem to mind the cold at all.  In fact really hot weather seems to stress them way more than cold does.

And so the weird weather continues.  No sooner do we have a foot of snow then everything turns around.  It is in the upper 30's and raining right now.  Tomorrow the high is forecast to be near 50.  Then it gets cold again.  And so it goes.

Thursday, January 12, 2012


One of my kind of-sort of New Year's Resolutions is to get the farm blog up and running again.  Posts became pretty sparse last year until they just dropped down to nothing.  Part of the reason was that the clinic where I work opened another branch in August of last year and I was picking up extra days of work.  I'm still working a couple extra half days per month, but things have fallen much more into a set routine then they were at first.  Couple that with the incredibly (pardon my language) shitty year on the farm last year and it was getting too darn boring writing about mud all the time.  2011 was an interesting climatic ride to be sure.  We ended up breaking the record rainfall for the year by nearly a foot which meant our total rainfall for the year was a little over 2 feet above average.  So while all the crops in Texas and Oklahoma died in the drought, most of ours got drowned in the rain.  A few things did well.  The eggplant and kale and the mini cantaloupe did really well this year.  Everything else ranged from mediocre to non-existent.  Thank goodness I froze a lot of sweet corn in 2010 because we only had one planting of sweet corn that did any good in 2011 and I didn't freeze any of it.

Until you live on the leeward side of a large body of water, I don't think it is easy to comprehend how that body of water affects the local weather.  During the months November through February, our neck of the woods (to the lee of Lake Erie) only averages 3 sunny days per month and about 5 more per month that are partly sunny.  That means we only see the sun about 8 days each of the winter months.  And so January 2012 has been quite abnormal.  We did see about a foot of snow on January 2-3rd, but after that little system went through, the weather warmed up and the sun came out.  We actually had sunshine for 5 straight days in a row.   I should actually include a 6th day that started out with a beautiful clear sky sunrise before the clouds and the rain moved in a few hours later.  That is something practically unheard of in January around here.  So I figured that I better write that down in the blog because sometime in the future I will mention that we had 5 straight sunny or mostly sunny days in a row this January and no one will believe me.  Heck, I might not even believe myself.

But alas we are back to typical weather.  Rain today with cold and snow moving in tonight.  We still have kale and Brussels sprouts doing well in the garden and it looks like Mike may be out picking produce in the snow for this Saturday's winter market.  We will see what tomorrow brings.