The Spring Chicken In Winter

If I had a blog today I would write about the first snowstorm of the season.

Snow Day

Snow Day

It’s snowing. Real, heavy, stick-to-the-ground snow that’s been piling up since late morning, transforming our little valley into a winter jewel. I am glad the snow has come; not only because of its beauty, but because it justifies the three days of back-breaking work we’ve put in preparing for the storm.

November 15 - Frosty Morning

Frosty Morning

I love nothing more than getting ready for foul weather. There is something utterly satisfying about working your knuckles to the bone so your animals will be warm, sheltered, and well-fed with the snow begins to fall. Since I am the main farm-hand these days, I’ve  taken on most of the storm prep myself. I spent one whole day cleaning and bedding the horse-stalls, washing up the bowls in the the indoor automatic waterers and setting up water-heaters in the outdoor troughs. Once that was done, I set up a heater in the cat-room at the barn so Toby and Miranda can enjoy a balmy 60-degree environment and I placed heat-lamps over the chicken roost to protect my hens from frostbitten combs and wattles. I was a little concerned that by evening, I couldn’t walk or straighten my back when bedtime rolled around, but, I rationalized, “I’m just getting warmed up. Surely my muscles will get with the program in a day or two. After all, I’m still in my forties – a spring chicken you might say.”

The Storm Begins

The Storm Begins

Day two gave my “inner chicken” another run for its money. Early in the day, I took the big truck to town and got a load of straw to use for the hens, Edward the rooster, and Ferdinand the duck. Straw is much lighter than hay, but when one’s muscles have been compromised, unloading a pickup full of bales and stacking them in the barn can be a bit of a challenge. Bedding Ed and Ferdie is easy. Their domain is a box-stall at the barn and I had their bachelor pad looking good in minutes, but the hen house is big and it took two big bales to get their house fresh and clean. I cursed my aching back once the bedding was done, but watching my hens scratch for bits of wheat in the golden straw made it all worthwhile. If I could have called it quits at that point, life would have been grand, but, because farm-life takes no prisoners, I still had horse stalls to clean and horses to feed. By bedtime even my toenails hurt and I began to have concerns about that this spring chicken had passed her “sell by” date.

Day Three should have been a cake-walk: Regular chores with a quick detour to clean the silt out of the automatic waterers. The dirt that was clogging the water-flow came from repairs our plumber made to a broken water pipe. No big deal: Just remover the filters and we’re back in business. Not. The filters came out easily, and they were filthy, but when I turned the water back on, nothing happened. The little spigots were as dry as a bone. I got out the repair manual and my heart sank. “If cleaning the filter does not restore full-function to the waterer, remove the bowl, basket, and counterweight; open the control valve and clean thoroughly.” Egads.

Let It Snow

Let It Snow

And so began the six-hour siege. Dad and I disassembled each waterer, removed the control valve, cleaned it and put things back together again. Then we had to calibrate the waterers. This is an inexact process whereby one tinkers with adjustment screws and weight placement until water flows freely but doesn’t overflow the bowl. “Trial-and-error” really doesn’t do this tedious process justice. Not only is it frustrating and time-consuming, it requires the repair-person to stand hunched over for hours, utterly destroying one’s back, legs, and hips. In three days I had gone from spring chicken to stewing hen and a nice, hot soak in a crock pot didn’t sound half-bad. Dad and I crippled through the evening, faced off with chores this morning, and then, about ten o’clock, our labors were rewarded. It began to snow.

The aimless flurries that came first soon turned into a proper storm and I had to hurry to get the horses inside before they got wet. Moisture is not necessarily a problem to horses, but when the low is forecast to be eleven degrees, hypothermia can be a concern, especially for the fine boned and delicate Arabian horses in our herd. I wasn’t thrilled to return to the barn less than an hour after I had left, but once the horses were settled in their stalls, munching hay and drinking their clean, clear water, all my aches and pains seemed a small price to pay.  All across the farm, my babies were tucked in safe and warm while the beautiful snow fell all around. It was a Christmas card ending to a mid-November day.

Good Night Chickens

Good Night Chickens

It is dark now, the only light the soft glow emanating from the barn and hen house. All is calm. All is bright. As for the spring chicken, she is comfortable on the couch, heating pad and hot coffee in tow. Its been a heck of a week, but worth every ache and pain. That’s what love is all about.

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