By Kim Carr:
This weekend started out with me doing farm chores in zero-degree weather—brrrr. Having sunshine helps. It gives an illusion that it is warmer than it really is. Weather app said it felt like -11. Truth is, once it is below 28 degrees, does it really matter? The lack of wind, plus the sunshine, made it feel like a pleasant -11, if there is such a thing.
The Pyrenees are in their element. Lucy and Marilyn are caught often rolling like I would on a spring day in a bed of clover, but theirs is a bed of ice and snow. I may be imagining this, but the big dogs almost seem giddy about the cold. I am glad they are not offended by the cold, as predators move closer and closer to the house in search of an easy meal of duck and chicken when the cold settles in. These dogs are a hard-working trio–Lucy, Marilyn, and Zak. Seems like they have figured out their own winter schedule. Seldom are all three in the house at the same time. It is almost impossible to keep Marilyn in. She comes in, eats, and wants right back out. When you open the door, she runs out barking as if to let all would-be predators know she is back on guard. Lucy will grab a nap inside during the day, but at night she heads out to patrol. As for Zak, you never know what he will do. He tends to spend more time inside than the girls, but if they sound the alarm, his thunderous bark rattles my bones. I cannot get the door open fast enough as he is on the fly to help the girls with whatever task they are handling.
First thing I do each morning after I have completed the mini ritual of getting dressed to go outside is fill the chicken water bowls that are scattered around the chicken area. This way no one must travel very far for a drink.
Currently, I have seventeen bowls I am maintaining for all the chickens, ducks, geese, Poppy the sheep, and the wild birds and squirrels. I open chicken houses as I go about filling water bowls. As soon as I fill bowls and open houses, everybody wants a drink of fresh water. Water is so critical in the winter.
By the time I get the houses open and all the waters filled, the first water bowls already had a decent crust of ice cover. I go back to each bowl and bust ice on all seventeen before I prepare to feed.
When there is snow on the ground, I alter where I toss feed for the chickens and ducks. Normally I scatter feed everywhere as I walk around each house. It allows everyone to hunt, scratch, and peck for their food. It is more natural than standing at a feeder.
Spreading the food out also prevents anyone from hoarding—yes, chickens can be hoarders.
It also prevents anyone from being a bully and not allowing the smaller or more timid critters from getting their fair share. In weather like this, I concentrate the feeding areas to spots that are more sheltered and protected from the snow—under the truck, on the front porch of my house under the awning, and in the chicken houses. Somehow everyone knows they must be kinder and more tolerant in the tighter spaces, because no one really wants to stand around in the snow to eat breakfast. In the cold, I will add a water bowl inside the chicken houses. The houses are a little warmer due to body heat—chickens are pretty hot-blooded. These bowls do not freeze as fast and allow the birds that do not want to go outside a chance to stay in if they choose. I also have feeders inside any house that Poppy does not have access to. She cannot have access to a feeder because sheep will overeat on grain and kill themselves. For this reason, I am always incredibly careful about how and where I put feed out. Chicken chores in the morning take me about thirty minutes or so if all goes as planned.
Next, I take care of the cows. I do whatever I need to make sure they have fresh water and plenty of hay. Depending on what all I need to do, this might take me twenty minutes on a good day. I toss a small bucket of corn out for the cows in the winter so that I can get everybody up to be counted and looked over. If I am filling both water tanks, moving gates and hay feeders, chores could take me an hour or two. Currently, the way I have things set up, I need to move gates and hay feeders once every seven to nine days. My mom is pretty good about letting me know when we are in for a bad stretch of weather. This sometimes allows me to get the big task done on a more decent day. My new system of feeding hay has been a huge time saver (and back saver) for me this year, but the cows are going through more hay with the new system, so there is a tradeoff. My cows are already on their thirteenth large bale of hay for the season. That is a lot of hay! It is imperative that I stay in touch with my hay guy. Running out of hay in the middle of the season is not a good thing. I chatted with my hay guy last night, asking for another five big bales to be delivered when he has a chance. The nice thing is, March is just around the corner. Does not mean we will not have bad weather then, but March just makes me happy.
March is like a light at the end of the tunnel; it gives me hope.
So far, knock on wood, we have not had any trouble with the water, pipes, or pumps (knock on some more wood). Having water is always a major concern in the winter. For the heck of it, let us knock on that wood again. Temps will not be above freezing for at least the next
10 days. Having access to fresh water is a must. After I finish with the cows, I go back and break ice again on all the chicken waters and collect any early eggs for the day.
Once all the critters are tended to, my mom puts coats on our little dogs Gypsy and Koda. She sends them out for a ride to the mailbox. I drop them off and follow them home because they will not go out and explore on their own, nor will they follow me for a walk. This way, they get a little exercise whether they want it or not. Reckon someone needs to drive me about five miles from the house and let me walk home. Anyhow, once home, they head to the house to be let in. I grab another two jugs of water and go check each water bowl again. I am not sure how ducks can muddy water when there is no mud, but they have a unique talent. I refresh any bowls that need it.
If things have gone well, I am back in the house around 10 or so, but some days it is more like 11 or 11:30. No matter what, I always check the waters before I head in. Now to “unswaddle” myself from all these layers, and it is time for breakfast.
After breakfast, I get started with working on the things that I need to do to run a small business from home. Winter does not provide me with a lot of time to do this. Luckily, working from home, I have a lot of flexibility and am able to work between all the work I do on the farm. I am not sure how I used to get everything done when I worked off the farm. Most likely, I did not get everything done. I am thankful for the opportunity to make things mesh—farm, personal, business. With a farm and multiple critters to care for, you never can really gauge how much time will be needed to tend to everything each day. It is nice being able to let each day unfold as needed.
I will bundle up again in about two hours and head back outside. I will bust ice in all the water bowls and fill them again, collect eggs, and take care of any other chores that might need doing. Today, I put down fresh bedding in several spots that the ducks and chickens like to hang out in the bad weather. I feel better giving them a thick bedding to stand or lay upon in the places they like to hang out. Back inside, I will get what work done that I can before heading back out again in another two hours or an hour before sunset, whichever comes first. I will give fresh water again and check for eggs. If the dogs are up to it, I will run them to the mailbox again. In this weather, it does not take long for an egg to freeze and bust, so collecting several times a day hopefully prevents this. In the summer, I collect often because the black snakes like to indulge on them. It is amazing how many eggs a black snake can eat!
Back inside, I sit down for some lunch somewhere in between getting more work done, emails, phone calls, designing, organizing, planning, and creating until just before dark. Then I head back out with the little dogs and we fetch the mail during our last walk of the day. One more check for eggs as I empty water bowls for the night. I double check that everybody is where they should be. On occasion, you get a straggler, and I must go catch them or herd them toward their house for the night. Once everybody is in their proper spot for the night, I top off the cows’ water tank and head inside for the evening. A little more work, some dinner, and eventually off to bed so that I can be rested to do it all over again tomorrow. I have learned to dress warmly and always keep a spare pair of gloves on me so that once I am outside, it really is not that bad, but the cold can make things challenging, as can the ice or snow.
Living in Missouri gives us the beauty of four seasons, which I certainly appreciate; I just appreciate the other three seasons a little bit more than I do the fourth. On the bright side, I get outside every day and exercise . . . may not be your traditional type of exercise, but it still counts, right?
Kim Carr is a photographer and mid-Missouri hobby farmer who has combined her love for the country life with that of natural-light photography. Her work reflects my commitment to sustainable agriculture and the humane treatment of all animals. To learn more about Kim, read her interview with Elizabeth Gracen here.
To purchase Kim's photography, visit her website.