Every winter in Maine presents its challenges. The last week of 2017 is offering unique experiences, as the Northeast like much of the rest of the United States is gripped in a deep freeze. And if you think this freeze is unusual - you'd be right. In Bangor, Maine (about forty minutes north of our farm) the last time that temperatures stayed below 10F for more than seven days was in 1971, and that year set an all time record. While we may not be breaking that record, we certainly will be getting close over the next few days.
It's that amount of time, and not the temperature itself, that is really wearing on farm and farmer. We've had days that dip much colder than this, but always with relief in sight. The act of staying warm for animal and human alike becomes exhausting, and therefore dangerous, when there is no break. So we are taking special care to make sure that everyone stays warm and healthy over the next few weeks and as winter progresses.
Humans and the Farm House
Our 1890s farmhouse has little in the way of insulation - they used to stuff corncobs into the walls to keep out the draft, and that's about it. We live in the two front rooms of the house, about four hundred square feet, and we've sealed off the whole back part of the house which is in serious disrepair. By sealed off, we mean using heat tape and insulation around the doors and spraying foam into any cracks in the floorboards that looked into the basement. We covered the windows in plastic before winter and reinforced the big storm front door.
In May of this year we found a Vermont Castings Resolute stove and put it in the front part of the house, piping it into the existing chimney. This little stove has been a champ. With regular cleaning and plenty of firewood (we'll probably burn six cords this winter), it seems the four hundred square feet of our bedroom up near seventy degrees. That does include two late-night/early-morning refills, but that's a very small price to pay for comfort.
As regular readers know, our kitchen is out in the barn where we have running water and electricity. The small room, less than one hundred square feet, stays close to sixty degrees with one electric heater pumping away (keeping the pipes from freezing) in the corner. Crank up the table-top oven or the hot plate, and it gets even warmer.
I worry about the goats more than anything else during a deep freeze. Maybe it's because their wide eyes look up at me from their stalls and seem to be saying, "fix this". Our goats get a new bale of shavings added to their stall every few days to make sure they stay dry and warm, and I am constantly checking on their supply of hay. Hay, grain, and other feed keeps their bellies working which warms their bodies, so an approximate 10% increase in grain (by way of three small feedings per day in my case) keeps them toasty.
I also give the goats warm water three times a day, which not only ensures their water isn't frozen but helps warm them up right away when they drink. The girls are quick to understand this, and hurry over for a sip when I bring in new water.
The Geese and Chickens
Geese and chickens also get extra bedding thrown down every few days to keep their toes warm. I refill water every few hours, though neither type of bird likes their water very warm. I put a tablespoon of apple cider vinegar in the water every few feedings to help boost immune system's and make sure they've got food to last them through the night.
Since the first snowfall the chickens have looked skeptically out the coop door and spent most of their time on the roost, but the geese venture out even in the coldest weather. If it is particularly bitter they just sit down, puff out their feathers, and pull their feed up inside their down to keep warm.
Cats and Dog
The cats keep the staying warm thing pretty simple: since November, they basically haven't left their spot next to the wood stove. The dog also keeps it simple: he loves the cold. Allowed off his leash or out of the indoor pen and he is immediately rolling in the snow with joy, and once he gets his energy out he settles down on a big patch of ice and naps. I wish we all were so comfortable in the cold weather!
Where ever you are, stay warm and stay safe! Spring will come soon, I'm sure of it.
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