When I came home from work last night, Dave was outside working with the animals.
As it turned out, Dave had been outside working with the animals for nearly two hours, and he wasn’t quite done.
To be clear, dinnertime chores on the farm typically take about half an hour, give or take. The pigs, chickens, and goats need to be fed, sometimes one or more of them need new water, sometimes the goats need fresh hay, eggs need to be collected, and Janie needs to be milked. That’s about it.
The difference last night was that temperatures were forecast to plunge well below zero overnight and he was making sure everyone would be alright.
He’s just that kind of guy.
Now, Dave’s particular way of making sure the animals would be alright was not simply throwing an extra bale of mulch hay in their sheds or chucking a blanket over a particularly wide gap in the barn wall.
Nope. Dave is a thorough dude.
If you were a farm animal, you would want to be a farm animal on Dave’s farm.
I could see that he had the light on in the goat shed and was likely milking, so I started collecting chickens from the garage. On any given night, six to eight of our flock may be found staggered around the garage–some in the rafters, some on hay bales, some roosting on the edge of some piece of machinery.
From a few steps back, they always seem to look as if they’ve positioned themselves in preparation for their album cover photo shoot.
Usually, The Garage Chickens are welcome to spend the night in the garage if they so choose.
We don’t know why they started camping out here, but they’re not bothering anyone and no predators have discovered the veritable chicken buffet awaiting them nightly. So, we let it slide.
But in these temperatures it would be negligent for us to allow them to hunker down in the drafty garage (which has no doors, by the way) when we know how cold it will get.
Moving the first six was no problem.
I thought it would be best to get every last bird into one coop for the night. Overcrowding for the sake of warmth seemed to be a good idea. So, six from the garage and then another 12 from the smaller coop really started to help it feel cozy in there.
The last two (The Rafter Girls) wanted nothing to do with being moved out of the garage. I chased them a bit, upset them a lot, and then gave up and sacrificed them to the elements. Good luck, ladies!
Once all the other chickens were safely tucked away, I had a chance to see what Dave had been doing.
The goat shed had been filled with at least two bales of hay.
He opened these and shook them out a bit so that the goats could use them both for warmth and for eating.
He fed, watered, and milked them, and then he took their doorway blanket (the one we leave hanging over the entrance to keep rain, snow, and strong winds out) and nailed it down halfway.
This added bit of attention ensured that the gusty overnight winds wouldn’t force the blanket away, allowing cold air in.
The goats were preemptively grateful.
The pigs also received a couple bales of hay.
Not much in the world makes a pig as happy as a brand new bale of hay in the winter.
Well, that’s not entirely true. Pretty much everything makes pigs really happy; they’re just easy like that. But a fresh bale of hay is definitely right at the top of the list.
Because pigs are snouty and destructive, the sliding door to their shed was long ago pushed away from its track and stuck in a permanently semi-open position. Normally, this is no big deal, but overnight this opening would have allowed icy winds and drifting snow to ruin the otherwise lovely New Hay Bedding.
Dave was having none of that.
Working like some Anasazi contractor using hay and snow, he packed the openings full, ensuring that nothing would get in to disturb the piggies while they slumbered.
And then he did the same thing for the chickens.
Packing snow all around the bottom of the coop, he closed off the chicken wire bottom that normally provides fresh air to their otherwise poopy-smelling digs. He hung an old blanket over the window on the outside just to ensure that no wind would blow through the cracks, and then he buried the bottom of the blanket with his pig-shed-adobe-technique.
When he was done, everything looked really crappy, but looks don’t matter at all where warmth is concerned.
In this booger-freezing, lip-chapping, fingertip-throbbing cold, all that matters is that everyone makes it until morning without being too very cold and that there is food and water available.
And no one could say that Dave hadn’t done his part to ensure that all of the animals were gonna be okay overnight.
What we didn’t expect was to come out this morning to find the coop door OPEN.
After all that, sometime during the night, the heavy winds managed to blow open one of the coop doors, leaving every chicken exposed to the freezing cold, wind, and snow.
Happily, they seemed to fair pretty well despite this. One rooster, Tough Guy Junior, must have been closest to the door. His comb and wattle showed clear signs of frostbite but, otherwise, he and the rest of the flock seemed just fine.
Thanks, Farmer Dave.