Our first seed catalog arrived yesterday. And man, am I stoked.
Winter on a farm isn’t a time for too much resting. There’s still a lot to be done. For one thing, our animals don’t disappear with warm weather. They actually require more work than they do in summer. In the summer, we can let our chickens roam the yard, hunting bugs and worms. It’s kind of awesome, because they keep the ticks and mosquitoes down.
If you’ve ever lived through a bad tick season, you’re feeling me. Those little buggers are vicious. And sneaky. They’re like mini Viet Cong sneaking up on you in the jungle. Or forest. Whatever.
In the winter, though, if we want eggs we have to keep the hens penned up. They have a nice, large yard to run around in, but most of the time they choose to stay in the cover of their building in a large crowd, staring out dolefully at the world and waiting for the slightest bit of cloud cover so they can go to sleep. No kidding, those birds might be the smartest animals on the planet. When it’s dim outside, they go to freaking sleep, by God. Just sit and daydream about that for a minute, won’t you?
Because the hens are penned up, we have to feed them more. We have to make sure they’re getting protein so they can create eggs. Winter costs more than the heat bill, let me tell you. We also have to keep a light on in the hen house for 14 hours a day, or those ladies will snooze all day and not lay any eggs. Their water freezes, so we have to break that up. Unless it freezes completely, then we have to search around for a second water trough and start over. When it’s below freezing for several days in a row, you start to run out of troughs. We should invest in one of those heated troughs, and (I swear) we talk about doing so every single winter. Talking doesn’t really solve the problem, though.
A boy and his dog
Our miniature donkey needs a lot of the same care. His pastures are winter-dead, so we have to provide him with hay and feed so he doesn’t sink in on himself and stand by the road, looking longingly at every car that passes with his thumb out. At least he doesn’t need a light. But his water does freeze.
In the winter, my free-range rabbits have to be put into pens so they don’t mate all the time and produce litters that die in the cold before they even get fur. They’re a little easier, because we just use dog food bowls for their feed and water, and they pretty much empty them before freezing can happen. But it breaks my heart to see them locked up like that. They’re rabbits. They should be nibbling grass, thumping, and digging burrows.
I don’t know if you know this, but doves mate like rabbits. One of our females is sitting on an egg right now. The baby won’t survive the cold. They never do. But we always give them a chance, because there might be that one that makes it. We could put the egg in an incubator and try to raise the baby in the house, but song birds are harder to care for than chicks, and I honestly wouldn’t know what to feed the little bugger. I keep asking them to stop mating, but they just coo at me condescendingly. I think it means, “Yeah, right, lady. Not on your life.”
I don’t know which one is the male. So I can’t separate them. They know that, and they laugh at me every morning when I feed them.
The red golden pheasants pretty much take care of themselves. They have a beautiful aviary (built by the most beautiful man in the world), and they just hang out and flap their wings at me when I’m changing their water trough, letting me know I have no control over them and that I’m so beneath them they can’t even be bothered to attack me. They are majestic birds with a lot of attitude, so I have to agree with them. I mean, I can’t fly. So they have that on me.
We have had winters when we raised cattle, pigs, goats. They demand so much more when it’s cold outside and they can’t take care of themselves. So winter keeps us hopping around here, even when we don’t feel like it.
But the seed catalog… Oh. Yeah.
January hits, the catalogs start pouring in, and we start planning the spring garden. We sit at the table together, Martin and I, and go through the catalogs, dreaming about what goodness we’ll grow. It’s the best part of winter on the farm. The Littles even get involved, as we decide what we’ll grow from seed and which yummies we’ll buy as seedlings from the local nursery. We start looking at our soil, to see what nutrients need added where. We plot the year’s design, so that we’re being sure to rotate things and to plant ‘friendly’ plants next to each other. We get out graph paper and draw up several designs. By the time we’re satisfied, it’s time to plow, then time to till. The greenhouse goes up and I start growing the seeds we ordered. And suddenly winter is over and it’s time to get all that goodness in the ground.
I can rest easy knowing the Littles are learning how to take care of themselves when the zombie apocalypse comes. If you ask them, that could be any day.
Winter on the farm is expensive, both in finance and in work. It’s different from the work we do in summer, and it’s cold, and breaking up all that ice is a pain in the ass.
But I wouldn’t trade it for the city. Not even if they have heated water troughs.