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 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.
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.
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.
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!
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