And like a Viking of old, I stood in the duck yard with my hammer and water bucket, ready to do battle with the Frost Giants. A bit dramatic I know, but that’s what happens when the temperature drops to -14, and the water for the poultry was frozen rock solid. I was bundled to my eyeballs in a hat, mittens, a hooded sweatshirt, wool socks, and my warm winter coat, but I still felt I didn’t have on enough layers. With every breath I took my nose hairs froze together, and the cold air made my chest hurt.
I was seriously questioning my sanity. Why was keeping chickens, ducks, and geese such a good idea again? Not having a satisfactory answer to that question, I decided the best thing to do was to continue on unfreezing their water, and making sure everyone had enough food.
I should be used to this, but the past couple of winters have been really mild. Their water buckets didn’t freeze too hard, and I didn’t have to worry about the birds having enough hay for warmth, and extra calories.
The cold wouldn’t have been so bad, but I was walking around outside with a bucket of water that I kept sloshing all over myself. My mittens were frozen hunks of fabric, and my pants had gotten soaked, frozen solid, and freeze dried. My first thought was to hammer the ice out of their buckets, but after getting hit in the face with ice chunks more than once, I decided there had to be a better way. Taking a minute to study on the problem, I slid the bucket out of the goose shed, flipped it upside down, and then I poured hot water over the bottom. After that, it was like popping ice out of an ice cube try. Pretty soon, the goose and duck yards were littered with weird little ice sculptures like an eccentric outdoor art installation, and the ducks and geese were happily drinking and cleaning their feathers. They were given extra hay, and I tossed everyone some dried worms.
I went onto the porch to get their fodder buckets, and the pot of oatmeal for the chickens. Only to discover that they had all frozen while I was taking care of everyone’s food and water. By that point I was tired of trying to chisel out frozen things, but I gave it my best. In the future, I will keep that in the house until I’m ready to give everyone their treats.
After checking on the chickens, I decided they needed an extra ration of corn, and more hay to keep their toes warm. Our one chicken, Dandelion, was refusing to leave the coop. He had my sympathy. Dandelion is smaller than the other chickens, and tends to feel the cold more keenly. I tossed his treats inside to him, and checked to make sure the bedding was extra thick. After that, it was time to go inside and warm up with another cup of coffee.
What no heat lamp to help keep everyone warm? That’s right, no heat lamp. The thing with chickens, and ducks and geese in particular, is they all have feathers. When it gets cold, they should have the feathers and body fat to keep themselves toasty. They burn a lot of calories to keep warm, so I make sure they all have plenty of feed, and supplement their food with corn and dried worms. I have been known to toss a stick of butter to the chickens so they are able to consume extra fat to which helps replace the extra calories they are using. Their poop freezes, which freezes the hay. So, I toss more hay on top. I’ll keep this up until we have a warm up. Then I’ll shovel some out, stir it up, and toss on more. I go through a lot of hay in the winter. I also make sure everyone has plenty in their yards. Even though duck and geese have down, and lots of body fat, they like the extra hay to settle in when it’s really cold out. Water is the biggest issue in the winter. I have a heated waterer for the chickens. It works great as long as they don’t accidentally unplug it. For the ducks, I have an aquarium heater I put in their water cooler. This works great, but they have been known to pull it out of their cooler and set it in the hay, causing a serious fire hazard. Which, is why I haven’t put one in the goose’s water. Geese are insatiably curious, and will eat anything. I’m really worried they will chew the water heater, and start a fire. So, until I come up with a solution to that, I’m using a smaller bucket, and heaping hay around it. That helps keep it from freezing for a while. Their outside water has to be unfrozen and refreshed everyday, but it keeps everyone happy.
The return of winter has been a pain. I am tired of my fingers sticking to the metal latches on the doors to duck and goose yards, and the chicken coop. Hauling water has taken on a whole new level of effort, and the birds are going through their feed at a rapid rate. The geese, however, don’t seem to care. They love wondering around, eating plastic objects they aren’t supposed to, no matter the weather. As soon as I fill up the ducks outside bucket, they have hopped in, splashing around. It must feel like they are relaxing at Chena Hot Springs. The chickens poke their heads out, and wait for their corn ration. It’s back in the 40’s now, and raining. The geese and ducks have found every puddle in their yards, and hopped in. Chickens are hopping out of their coop, hunting for their kitchen scraps that to froze to the ground last week. They are all happy, but I kind of miss winter. Sure, it was a pain, but it was beautiful, and it is why I live here.