Surviving the Siberian Cold Snap

Last month, I found myself making the usual preparations for the cold weather and deep snow that was forecast in mid-February. I called ahead for a propane delivery, even though I still had forty percent in the tank, as I wanted it topped off while the weather was still favorable for our propane guy to deliver. I put heated waterers in the chicken barn and made sure the heated water tubs for the deer and wildlife were plugged in and working. Forrest made a trip to the local farm store to stock up on chicken scratch and feed, deer feed, and some bird seed. I stuffed feed sacks and cloth rags in the worst of the drafty areas in the chicken barn, hoping to at least keep wind from pouring into the coop. I had my snow shovel propped at the front door of our house, and put outdoor mats out to keep from slipping on the decking. With all this in place, I was as ready as I could be.

But no propane was delivered before the storm. I assumed with the shortages and demands I had heard about all through the Midwestern US, and seeing I still had forty percent in the tank, I was not viewed as a customer in dire need. I called the propane people again just in case and was told I was “on the list”. So, knowing the brutal forecast for the week, we decided to conserve. Three days into the storm, we learned of power outages in many areas, and freezing water lines. Fortunately, we are on well water and had buried our water lines twenty-four inches deep, well below the frost line for this area. And fortunately, we never lost power. However, the well house was another issue. By day three of the brutal below-freezing temperatures, we learned that the next few nights would be well below zero. The electric heater in the well house, which normally runs on low all winter, soon could not keep up with the dropping and below-zero temperatures, even while running on high. So Forrest added propane heat in the well house, which he monitored every three or four hours.

The fawns did amazingly well in the extreme temperatures. In fact, they seemed to thrive!
Forrest often went out to check on the fawns and sometimes offered a carrot or pecan snack.
Scout is well-hidden in snow-covered brush.

The chickens were another concern. For a few nights, even the heated waterers had a thin layer of frozen water on them in the mornings. Dale the rooster and a couple of the older hens suffered from frostbite on their combs. On the coldest nights, we screwed a heat bulb into the light fixture of the henhouse, but it probably did little to help the temperature in the old, drafty barn. Every morning I cringed to think of how many chickens would be suffering or might have died in the night. Each day I found them doing well, laying eggs as usual, and behaving remarkably well considering they were shut in the barn for more than a week. Eggs had to be collected every hour or they would freeze and bust, making a gelatinous mess in the nests.

The black tips on Dale’s comb are from frostbite. Dale is quite old – maybe thirteen years old or more, and has endured frostbite before.
I placed feed bags along the ventilation louvers above the roosts, which helped keep drafts to a minimum. A few days after warm weather returned, we lost one of our old hens that had suffered a little frostbite. This seems to be the way of chickens – they’ll make it through the tough times, only to perish suddenly when things improve.

I was thankful that Forrest’s sister is renting the rock house, as she kept an eye on the situation over there and informed us about any problems that cropped up. I wondered how she managed to sleep at night when the temperature in the house dipped into the low 50’s. To help out with this, we brought over a couple of electric heaters, and Forrest worked out in the cold one afternoon to seal up areas where cold air seemed to be getting in. It certainly was an eye-opener for us, knowing what we would need to fix and repair as we continued remodeling the rock house this summer.

Oscar loves to bound around in the snow! Most of the time, I had trouble getting him to come back in the house!
Lollipop, on the other hand, didn’t want to get out in the snow, so I shoveled a path to the driveway where she did her business. She’d promptly come back in the house to lie down on her heating pad.

What concerned me the most, was the hardship that wildlife suffered in more than a week of brutal temperatures and conditions. The very first day of wind and below-freezing temperatures, I found two dead birds in the front yard. They looked as if they had just fallen from the sky. We took in a small pine Siskin that I found huddled in a corner of the back porch one morning. One eye would not open, and it shivered for a long while, before finally improving by drinking water and having a little bird seed. It did well in the little cage we kept at a sunny window. But the next morning around 9:00, it simply died. I found myself thankful that it at least died in comfort.

The deer, on the other hand, managed the cold spell quite well. In fact, I cannot tell you how many times I saw them frolicking or running full-throttle around the house. It dawned on me later that they were keeping active and warming up that way. Instinct is their best survival skill! We often saw them bedded down below the slope where the wind wasn’t as brutal. A good layer of snow covered their backs and heads. Like most large mammals, they are built for extreme temperatures. We did help remove some eye mucous that tended to freeze in the inner corners of their eyes, but our help wasn’t necessary, really. The girls mutual groom each other a lot, keeping faces and eyes clean while also addressing open cuts and rips from barbed wire and other woodland obstacles.

We also helped out other mammals and birds by keeping the deer and bird feeders full. Normally, we will fill two deer feeders maybe twice a week. During the week and a half of inclement weather we were filling both feeders every other day and went through a 40-pound sack of bird seed. We observed various local deer, opossums, raccoons, birds, an armadillo and a skunk eating deer feed.

Forrest drove the Mule down to fill the feeders every other day. There was no way to amble down the slope by foot as it was much too treacherous!
This heated water tub has been a wonderful investment.
I don’t normally feed wild birds seed during the winter months, but I felt this extremely cold weather warranted buying a large bag. The bag was completely empty in a week’s time. I fed squirrels pecans too. Even Punkin the orphaned squirrel returned for pecans after the worst of the brutal temperatures.
This little pine Siskin only lived a day in our home, but I felt good knowing we gave it comfort in its final hours.
The day the snow melted, Forrest found an infant cottontail rabbit along an animal trail in the woodlands. We guessed that the mother was moving it, or a predator nabbed it, and dropped it along the trail. It took us a bit to discover it was a cottontail – but the shape of the head, ears, and nose helped us identify it.
The day the snow melted I managed to capture an image of a local squirrel with mange, feeding below the bird feeder. The spread of mange happens when squirrels hole up together for warmth in inclement weather conditions. Several years ago our orphaned squirrel Punkin, acquired mange and managed to live through it. Hopefully, our weather warms up and this squirrel is healthy enough to survive the affliction.

The historic temperatures and snowfall of the Siberian cold snap that visited us last month may never pass this way again – at least not in my lifetime – and I truly hope they do not. But it did provide opportunity to make observations about improving our situation here and being better prepared for inclement weather. I was also reminded that nature is quite resilient and that despite all valiant efforts on our part, death will naturally occur. And, with the Siberian front back up north where it belongs, I am thankful to be enjoying warmer temperatures again, and looking forward to the promise of spring that I hope is just around the corner!

© 2021 Day by Day the Farm Girl Way…


42 thoughts on “Surviving the Siberian Cold Snap

    1. I’m sad too about the deaths. Today Forrest and I went hiking to look for the girls, and I found even more dead birds. It’s a harsh reality of life in the wild. We do what we can here to help during tough times. I wish we could save them all.

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  1. What a winter! We had 4 inches of snow on top of solid ice, then had more ice on top of that. We spent a week holed up in the house, and I worried about our local deer. During that week I did not see a single deer or bird or any other animal. But as soon as it all melted, the deer were back, and a big flock of robins spent a couple days here.

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    1. Hello, Ellen. We ended up with around ten inches of snow, but no ice, thank goodness! I’d been seeing robins for almost a month, but during that cold snap they vanished. Then, like you mentioned, as soon as the snow melted, the robins returned! I know the cold weather serves a purpose in the gest of things, but it is hard to watch the struggle for survival.

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  2. You are so amazing that you know what to do to take care of the creatures around you. We have learned as you have that sometimes no matter what you do, animals, trees and other plants, do not survive those extreme temps. In our case it is usually the 110F days that go on for a week or more than kill things, but we also get cold snaps in the 20’sF which is very cold for the plants and animals here. I hope you and your critters don’t have to go through that again. Thank you for sharing all this in your usual articulate and interesting way. xx

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    1. Thank you, Ardys. The heat can be an issue here too. I generally have pans and buckets of water out for critters during the summer months. I once rehabbed a giant woodland moth! After it was able to hydrate in the shade, it finally took off. Just offering a bit of respite is often all that is needed. I hope too, that we never see temps like that cold snap again. I found myself cringing every time I had to go out and check on eggs. No matter how I bundled up, I was cold. Still, I’m thankful for what I learned in ways we can improve things here.

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  3. What a testing and trying time it must have been for you, even though you were so well prepared. Good news that your fawns knew what to do to survive. Instinct is a powerful thing.

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    1. You have that correct, Anne! I wish humans were better about following instinct. Wildlife truly amazes me – especially the orphans we raise. They have only human parents to help teach them, so when they are released and on their own, instinct is how they survive. It’s a real blessing to follow them around and watching their ways. Just like observing them running occasionally… I never thought about it, but movement gets the body warmed up. And seeing them find sheltered areas to avoid the wind, and settle down in the snow which also acts as insulation… well, those fawns are a lot smarter than I gave them credit for!!

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  4. I dread thinking how much worse things would have been for you if you’d lost electricity, as so many people in Texas did for extended periods (like us!). You may have a generator, but even if you do I assume it wouldn’t have been able to operate all of the devices you mentioned that provided warmth.

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    1. Last October when we lost power for a few days in an ice storm, we did utilize a small generator we have. It’s set up where we can hardwire it to the box out back, and we managed to run the furnace and several appliances – it got us by. We generally keep propane in small bottles in case we need it for the well house. We have a backup kerosene heater as well, though that’s kind of a last resort. I felt for so many folks south of us who lost power and had snow or ice, freezing water pipes and shortages of all sorts. So much for global warming… and the mandates for solar and wind power. There was no sun here for two weeks, and wind power couldn’t even touch the demand for power during that time.

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      1. It’s good that your generator can be wired to your electrical system. A neighbor of ours has a generator but he said all he could do with it during the power outage here was run some individual devices, not his house as a whole.

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        1. Ours is probably a small one like your neighbor’s, but we have a special connector that allows us to hardwire it directly to the box. Definitely one needs to know what they’re doing! I was surprised how little fuel it consumed. We have friends with “whole house” Generac propane generation, and their propane bill was outstanding for those few days. After learning how expensive it is to run an operation like that, I’m all about toughing it out in other ways.

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  5. I find it fascinating to understand what people… and animals do to cope with weather extremes. Maybe because although thanks to improved standards of living many humans don’t live so much at mercy of the elements as they once did… but on the other hand when the infrastructure fails some are not prepared. I admire what you do, I doubt I’m cut out to be a wildlife carer. Similarly, a little bird we rescued died at least in comfort. But I worried continually about the welfare of the baby birds in the nest on our verandah until their wobbly first flights took them out in to the big bird world. During the very hot days of summer I jokingly suggested to the G.O. we should bring the chooks into the airconditioned house. Ahem. So I gave them big blocks of ice and cold watermelon… But it looks like as well as the deer, you are well set up to cope with whatever nature brings on.

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    1. Oh, I dread baby bird season! It’s hard to watch the parents try to keep the fledglings fed and keep track of where everyone flies off to, and sometimes there’s the runt of the family that gets left behind or knocked out of the nest. I admit, I’m never happy about taking in an orphan, regardless of the situation. It’s a lot of work raising birds especially. Small mammals are much easier to raise and care for. But, doing something to help out or simply what we are capable of helps a lot. Like you, I enjoy the learning process of what we can learn from wildlife by being good stewards.

      I marvel at instinct and how it is our greatest survival tool. I wish humans were better at tapping into instinct – and common sense. It’s something lacking in this day and age, which I find completely frustrating.

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        1. Not yet… maybe in another month!! Ha ha!! I don’t wear shorts much, since I’m doing dirty work outside, but I am always ready for short sleeves and sleeveless tops. I really need to do a post on my work clothes!! I have some brands that are quite appropriate for the work I do!

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  6. Lori,I thought about yall and wondered how things were going during the blizzard. All in all things went pretty good for you and Forrest since you were pretty well prepared. I am glad that not a huge number of birds were lost or other wildlife. I found one dead Robin in my yard and that was it. It surely was the worst of any winter in my lifetime. My house is old so I have natural gas for cooking and for heat but the power was off for 4 days. That was not really a problem since I had a lantern and flashlights and kept my phone charged in my truck. Many Texans were not so lucky and suffered a great deal with no heat or food plus costly damage from broken water pipes.

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    1. Yvonne, I see you as the “survivor” type person! You find a way, based on common sense. I have to admit during this cold snap I was thankful Forrest is now retired. Even having his sister across the yard, to help with the deer and chickens was nice. We all worked together to help one another.

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  7. We have seen images of the extreme cold in your home on television. At such moments life is particularly hard, both for humans and animals. Fortunately, you took the necessary precautions and you also took good care of the animals. Unfortunately, there are always victims, but often they are weakened animals … although it is a pity.

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    1. You are correct, Rudi. Most of the victims are old, very young, or unhealthy. Forrest and I hiked to the west yesterday, looking for the fawns (they’d gone missing for more than a day) and we discovered more dead birds, and an armadillo that perished. That was just hiking along fence lines – who knows what was to be found in the orchard or along the old river channel. It’s impossible to check ever area out. I realize there are reasons that some wildlife (and humans) perish – it’s part of Nature’s way. We have no control over any of it, and we can only hope to make a difference by using common sense and being practical.

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  8. Thanks for writing about something I will never experience or even imagine. I am heading to Winter where a couple of nights might get right down to a cold –5C During the day any where between 15 and 25C. Some days I might have long pants and a jumper on but have them off my around 11 o’clock and shorts and T-shirt are back on. There could be a frost on the lower country and gully bottoms for a few days.
    Enjoy your Spring 🙂 🙂

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    1. I love to hear reports on differences in other parts of the world! I envy you having warmer conditions. It won’t be long here and we’ll be celebrating springs warmer weather, and with that, the volatile storms of tornadoes, hail and strong winds! There is never a dull moment with the weather, but I find it all very fascinating!

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      1. Wild weather is never welcome here either. The ground is saturated at the moment and any more big rains will bring floods. I am in the foothills of the Gibraltar Range so that’s not a worry for me. I just want a few wet years to get over drought and fires.

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    1. Thank you, Margaret!! I have a friend in the Arvada area of CO and she kept me informed about their weather during our cold snap (she texted to check on us daily). I think it would have been much nicer to be in Colorado during that two weeks!! ha ha!! Lots of love back to you, my friend! I hope all is well in your neck of the woods.

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      1. Yes we had it much easier up here! And it was 64 degrees today … 🌞 Your cold snap prompted discussion in my family of how we would do with our living situation and prep, too. Wishing you a very gentle and happy spring. 🌱🌱

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  9. It seems a bit hard to survive in the Siberian cold snap. From the outside, the landscape looks amazing but its a very different scenario to survive in such cold conditions

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    1. I am thankful the bitter cold only lasted a week and a half. I imagine one gets used to those conditions living much further north, but it would be a difficult life. For me the worst of it was trying to keep my flock of chickens comfortable. And of course it was a concern to see so many people without power or water. I always think there are things to learn about being in a crises and observing how we can manage better next time!

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  10. Some folks tend to romanticize life on the farm but during times of hardship it presents a real challenge. You and Forrest did a great job caring for your chickens and it is a sign of that that you only lost one of them. Nature does have its way of making up for changes that humans can’t cope with on their own. I imagine our predecessors would have fared okay but thank goodness we have the wherewithal to come up with solutions for our survival.

    Weather patterns are different than we are used to due the the changing climate. During a period when we should have had similar weather to what you experienced instead we had 50’s and the occasional 60. It sounds like you both have some work to do, as if you don’t always, in preparing the Rock House and your outbuildings for the next challenging weather event.

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    1. We sometimes watch these “off the grid” shows where folks from big cities settle in remote areas, hoping to live off the grid and live life more self-sufficiently. I think it would be interesting to see after a year or so, just how they adjusted to a very different way of life. I am still prone to think that people with common sense and who allow instinct to guide them are more likely to survive and flourish in times of hardship. I highly recommend that people challenge themselves to push through difficult times and learn from the experiences. It’s a most rewarding life!

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      1. The self sustaining in the wild lifestyle seems romantic to many and a lot of that romance probably disappears quickly, I would guess. But as you say, for those stick it out with determination and common sense it must be very rewarding. Resting on our laurels, or imagining we have some, can’t compare to actual accomplishments and we should always be seeking more.

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  11. I laughed at your comment about doing a post on your work clothes. When it comes to clothing, I was well prepared for our freezing temperatures. I can layer long underwear on long underwear, and I have some of the best fleece and such in the world. But if I’d lost power, I would have been in trouble, and I know it. All-electric living is great, until it isn’t. There were two factors that made things so much more difficult. One is that the entire state, or nearly so, was involved in the mess. With a hurricane or tornado, other parts of Texas can come to the rescue. This time, everyone was affected. The other thing was that even with a few warming centers set up, there was no way to get to them. The ice-covered roads simply were too dangerous. I never would have set out on them. I need to figure some things out before next winter. I’ll take a hurricane over a freeze any time.

    One of the things that was both sad and interesting was the death of so many non-native deer and antelope. The managed game ranches here have stocked Axis deer and Indian Nilgai antelope, among other species, and they just weren’t able to cope with the temperatures. Somewhat ironically, the loss of so many Axis may be good for the white-tailed deer. While they roam cities like San Antonio and Austin with impunity, there are places where they’re being out-competed by Axis that have escaped the ranches and are multiplying. Culling the herd may have some side benefits.

    I’m amazed your chickens kept on laying. My wild birds did well, but they had more than enough to eat, and plenty of water. My possum survived, too. I’ve not seen him, but he has a distinctive way of eating, and I know he’s come by at night for a little snack!

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    1. I am not a fan of the wild game ranches. And you’ve made a good point about non-native species not surviving the recent storm. I had no idea that the Axis were roaming freely and competing with the native white-tail. That makes me a bit more angry at humans for stupidly introducing a foreign species into a native population.

      Culling the herd is something that went through my head a lot during this recent cold snap. Nature has its way of changing things. Even the trees that went down last October in our ice storm, they were naturally pruned and we will be surprised at the comeback and flourishing that will take place in the next years. It’s truly an amazing process if we can look at it that way. Recently as we were starting cleanup of the tree debris in the pasture south of the house, I found a couple of cottontail nests. They were already vacated, but still, it was wonderful to see that the bunnies had utilized the cover of the limbs and branches to raise their young. The deer used the downed limbs for cover over the winter, and they grazed off of the leaf buds and twigs. While humans tend to look at these events as catastrophic, nature provides all sorts of opportunities for life to flourish.

      Ah, clothes are so important. In the past I wore discarded jeans and old t-shirts to work in. Now I buy work clothes for function and comfort. Duluth Trading Company gets a lot of my business. Jeans might be tough and durable, but they’re hot and often cumbersome for good movement. Fabrics today are moisture-wicking and designed for better movement and comfort. The same with footwear. They’re on my feet all day, and they have to perform comfortably. I’ve learned to part with a little money to enjoy my work, and donate the old threads that do not fit my lifestyle.

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    1. Ha ha!! You had me laughing, Margaret! I think a Mediterranean climate would be wonderful, especially as I get older. We are fortunate here, as it’s more of a novelty to get snow, and we rarely have tough winters, like they do in my birth state of Nebraska. I rarely return to visit family in the winter and spring months because the weather can be brutal up there. It’s strange to think how different the climate is just seven hours north of here (about 450 miles)!

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  12. Don’t know what others think, but I really love snowy weather as it gives you a chance to sit near a fireplace and have coziness and warmth that you are not going to get in the rest of the year!

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  13. Enjoyed reading about your cold weather management
    This Arctic front should have made many of us marvel at the hardy souls that headed the wagons west, not knowing what was ahead, and faced such hardships.
    As a kid visiting the farm (weather was not considered in those plans) having piles and piles of old fashion quilts on the bed – a mountain worth ( and kids shared beds), there was no heat other than the fireplace in the front room and the “modern” propane oven in the kitchen. Sometimes there was ice on the inside of the window’s glass in the morning…I can identify with the chickens HAHA
    I always worry about chickens. Not exactly clothed for cold. During the worst, we stoped Molly from going out into the back yard as so many birds were sheltering in the bushes. She delights in sticking her head in a bush and watching birds fly out. She laughs. I swear. But she was just as excited to go on lots of walks throughout the day. Cold means nothing to her either.
    Big smiles over the birdseed and propane. Most people don’t realize the water pump must be kept warm at all costs ( we had a well and were so happy when a modern pump was installed and we had running water in the kitchen – even if it was cold.
    The NASA deer herd came through it all fine – and we’ve seen a couple of fawns already.
    Sounds like you guys are making plans to work on the stone house this summer. So nice you are saving and rehabilitating a structure. More need to think that way.

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