I still remember bracing myself when the first snows started at the end of our first autumn on the farm. A friend who grew up on a farm had told me, every season brings its own, and winter is a special kind of desolate. And it was.
It’s gotten better. We have the ropes down a bit better. We’re anchored in this place a bit more. My winter driving confidence has grown. But it still feels like a feat some days.
Waterers freeze. Electrical fencing in snowbank pastures is sometimes a bust. Doing a bunch of book keeping and accounting at a time of year when there are many bills to be paid and just about zero money coming in. It can wear on me.
I try to take in the landscape as often as I can.
The biggest winter challenge has been twofold. The number of freezing rain days and the degree and length of kid sickness this winter. The youngest was ill for 43 consecutive days with 3 different viruses/illnesses and there was, much to my dismay, a fair amount of in-house sickness sharing. While book keeping and hen tending isn’t a piece of cake with a feverish or barfing kid on your back/in your arms, my heart goes out to parents of young kids who work outside the home. How you all manage to keep your jobs when you have to stay home So. Much. with ill kids is impressive.
I drove one too many times on our (undivided, two lane) highway during freezing rain and decided that it wasn’t worth the ulcers I was giving myself or the nail prints dug through the steering wheel.
I drafted many a haiku about the very isolating qualities of barfing children and freezing rain.
Much of the season felt like an exercise in letting go and making peace.
Just like I let go and let all of the kids mix all of the play dough. (which just confirms my good sense in having my own secret stash of felt tip markers).
My wood working project this winter was to up the perch to bird ratio in the coop. A number of the hens had been intent on sleeping on the straw and I wondered if it was because of the terrible criss cross perch pattern we had going on. That perch motif also made gathering eggs like playing the game Operation–the terrible buzzing game we played as kids. No fun.
I wanted to build this contraption with hinges to be able to fold it in to clean out the coop, which more or less worked. That is, it worked but it’d be too high up off the ground and would take up 3/4 of the coop. I ended up folding up the legs and just letting it rest on the straw bedding. Onward (for me) and upward (for the hens).
I read that, for winter, rounded perches were less desirable. Apparently, a flat perch allows hens to warm their feet with their feathers as they sleep. I hope that isn’t hogwash.
I had been wanting to launch into a carpentry project of my own and on my own for a while. There always seemed to be something in the way. Too small of a car to bring the 2x4s home, space in the shop, consecutive hours sans kid.
I totally appreciate that so many of these challenges are my own mental blocks.
I thought about the wood projects as I would a wool project–which I typically have a much easier time to just plunge into. It takes a fair amount of time to find the wools, the needles, other assorted supplies : stitch markers, cable needles, pencils, etc.; to choose the right pattern, to make sure you have all the abbreviations down, that your sizing is correct. But once you do, it’s fairly smooth sailing. And often just the meditative hand work you need.
That being said, I started this knitting project back up as a way to deal with the stress of the sickness. I started it when I was pregnant with my eldest as a way to force myself to slow down. I was working and biking a lot then and was too exhausted at the day’s end. I bought the supplies and started knitting it four weeks before his due date. He was born a week later.
It feels very lovely and historical to get back into it. Thinking about what I was weaving through those threads then. The hopes, the unknowns, the energy too.
Here the hens pecked through a raw milk puck, preferring the fat content of the Jersey milk.
Our snow mountains are (surely) the envy of the land. And the warmth from our wood stove, post insulation renos, is remarkable.
In other news, the accounting work allowed me to see that the egg CSA business did actually make some money this year. I am grossly underpaid for my time, of course, but it is not the money sink and expensive hobby I feared it would be. The flock’s lay rate is still quite high despite the cold (around 80%), to boot. I really look forward to wheeling their mobile coop back out on pasture. Wet, damp, frosty spring is the worst for them. I’d bring them all in the house during the thaw if it wouldn’t be just 50 more (non-house trained) beings to clean up after.
Now the kids are healthier. The ice is starting to give way to the sun rays. The hens seem to know that soon they’ll get to exit the hay shed to pastured freedom. And thinking about seed catalogues and fruit trees hiding in the snow is fostering hope.