A farmers biggest fight is always going to be with Mother Nature. That lady has plans, and the farmer doesn’t know what they are. As you can imagine, disagreements arise. There will be too much, or not enough, or it will happen at the wrong time. If it’s not raining too much, it will not be enough. It will be too hot, or not hot enough. These are variables that cannot be totally controlled for, making the whole practice of farming an interesting one to say the least.
These truths were brought home to me this week when the temperature dropped from 20, and snowing to beat the band, all the way down to -34. Temperatures below freezing present challenges, but once it’s below zero it’s a whole other ball game for the poultry farmer.
The first thing you have to do is figure out how to keep your birds, and their water, warm.
You may be thinking that I put heat lamps out everywhere to keep them from freezing, but I didn’t. At this point, the birds should be all acclimatized to the temperature. I will admit, the first morning of -30, I was worried I was going to go outside and find frozen chickens, and was happy to see they were all fine, a bit grumpy, but that’s understandable. They have all the fat and feathers they need to keep warm. As the farmer, my job is to make sure they have the calories they need during the really cold weather because they burn more fat. The chickens were given extra corn and worms, and since the ducks and geese don’t like corn, they just got worms. I decided the ducks and geese would prefer to stay inside, and I figured if they were in their shelters their body heat would help keep their water in a somewhat liquid state. After they had all poked their heads out for a brief minute, they agreed with my assessment. The ducks were particularly funny. I had taken the lid off their cooler to fill it up, and they all quickly piled into the water. I was bemused to see how many could fit into that little rectangular space before I shooed them all out. They needed to share the water with everyone else.
I debated keeping the chickens in their coop, but I figured I would keep one door open so they get to the food and water. The chickens were hopping in and out most of the morning. Their heated waterer, which is supposed to cease working at -20, kept working, a pleasant surprise. Everyone got extra hay heaped into their homes, which they all happily burrowed into.
The hardest part, to me, was working all the latches. I had to take my mittens off for that part. The latches don’t like to work during the extreme cold, and my fingers froze to the metal, making it particularly painful to get in and out of their yards. Their doors also didn’t want to shut all the way, so I was holding them in place with my knees while I fumbled around. My legs had gone numb with cold, so I didn’t realize until later in the day that I had bruised the heck out of them. I also discovered when I came inside, that my boots had frozen to the rug in front of the door. It wasn’t too big a deal, I just needed wait for them to defrost.
At that cold, you and the birds agree. It’s painful to be outside. Unless you have a scarf covering your nose, it starts to hurt to breathe in the super cold air. If you’ve gotten your mittens wet (which inevitably happens) they quickly freeze to any surface they touch. You take your hands out of them to do anything like tossing worms, or messing with doors, and they are instantly, painfully, cold. The birds water is frozen up fairly quickly, so you are hauling extra through the day. For the birds, they are huddled in, doing what their bodies need to do to generate heat. If you have roosters with tall combs, frostbite is an issue, and you have to worry about their feet getting frozen. The ducks and geese refuse to move. They are sitting, and not going far. Frankly, I think they have the right idea.
I’m glad the cold only lasted a couple days. I know this used to be the norm. My husband remembers temperatures like this when he was in middle school and high school, but we haven’t had this in a long time, and I’m out of practice. Luckily, I still knew what to do to keep myself warm, and the birds as comfortable as I could make them until it warmed up a bit (2 above this morning, felt like a heat wave).