With fall officially falling and winter perpetually lurking ,our minds are now scanning the landscape to compile, amend and hopefully tackle our to do list. For me, getting the animals situated tops the charts and requires a bit of forethought because once the snow and ice lock us down it is far more difficult to move a coop or a hoop house or realize we should have nudged everything a little bit closer to the house. We learn a bit more each season and become better equipped than the last even if it comes by the school of hard knocks.
Last winter when Peach the cow arrived to stay in the new barn, we felt pretty well prepared for her. But the coldest winter in decades taught us more than a few things about large livestock, preparing for the worst and homesteading in general. We had to; shuffle sheep around to new housing when they didn’t jive with the new arrival, make a heavy duty extension cord that could run the milker when it was 10 below the donut, bring the milk machine tubing inside every time to keep it from icing up, haul about 25 gallons of water a day from the kitchen sink when our outside, freeze-proof hose bibs froze, balance down extremely icy paths without spilling the water and then again with milk and lots of other lessons of the same ilk. None of these things really kept us from thoroughly enjoying her stay, but they have served as small bits of knowledge that we file away to avoid making the same mistakes in the future.
This winter my game plan begins with moving the sixteen laying hens up fairly close to the house. They are the only critters that don’t fall directly in Greta’s domain so it’s nice to have them in sight. If old mister fox comes calling I’ll be able to see him from the window with a flashlight. No sense leaving the confines of a toasty house to go chasing something that may be nothing. Also, I’ll feel so very smart when I don’t have to shovel a path all the way to the back of the garden after every storm.
The 5 ducks I believe and hope will be content to stay near the pond in their little coop even when the pond freezes up. I’m also pretty interested to see if we get enough rain this fall to fill the pond back up for winter skating. It’s a pretty small town, perhaps we can get the fire department to come give us a fill up if we really need one! The thing I’m most curious about with the pond is if it will remain it's current shade of ducky mucky, emerald green once it fills up and freezes…yeah, green duck ice for skating? Perhaps not.
The sheep are currently counting ten and we’ve been figuring out our short term plan to balance our fiber needs with the meat that they can also provide. We’ve already separated Clove the ram to breed him with Charlotte and Emily…oh stop, they are not relation (although that is acceptable in sheep social circles). After a month of that action we’ll ship Clove off to friends at a neighboring farm for the same kind of service (good work if you can get it). We’ll also butcher two of this years lambs to thin out the flock for the lambs coming in the spring. All of the sheep will get sheared in the coming weeks. We skipped fall shearing last year and found that their coats were much dirtier come spring and, if you can shear in the fall and then again in the spring, why not do that?
I’ve got a reliable hay source right here in town and he brings it right to my barn door for a fair price. I use square bales for their maneuverability compared to round bales, even though round bales are cheaper. I can also feed them square bales right in the barn and not worry about the hay getting ruined out in the weather. Our lot is 90% wooded so growing hay for winter consumption isn’t really part of our future plan. That said, we will continue to clear pasture for more summer grazing. So, the sheep will eat hay and have shelter in the barn we made last fall. We are going to make it bit more weather-tight than last winter by installing a sliding door on the front and blocking off one of the side entrances, time permitting of course.
What else? 5 children, but that’s a long story….how about goats! How could I forget our two little goats that have been the best pets and brush clearers over the last year that we’ve had them. They’re Nigerian Dwarfs that we got from a friend with the intention of breeding them so Adelaide could have a bit of a milking project and well, so far they are pets. We’re looking for a buck to service the ladies and have some little two pound goat kids in the springtime. Two. Pounds. One of the many reasons we got Greta was to watch over these little babes when they come. They’ll get a private suite when the buck is here but then they’ll winter in the barn with the sheep with whom they’ve worked out a fairly cordial relationship.
Fall and preparing for winter remind me of that moment right before the big storm hits. Before you hustle around the yard picking up kids and getting clothes off the line or shutting windows. That moment when you just watch the sky darken and move with a fury in your exact direction, whipping the trees into a frenzy and sending electricity right through you. Amidst all of these slow and deliberate preparations of the coming season I feel that storm brewing and the Earth has a pulse so palpable I can’t help but stop to just try and take it in completely.
Animals have pretty simple needs for the most part. Give them food, water and a clean, dry place to sleep and they’re quite content. Most assuredly problems will arise. Something will freeze up or ice will form where it never has before and cause problems or a big wind will blow something apart and we’ll be out there in freezing temps and blowing snow trying to get it remedied. It will happen, always does. And then next fall we’ll have another bit of knowledge to move ahead with. For now, we’re just getting ready for the storm.