Journal 2019

A periodic journal of homesteading occurrences here:  farm and land happenings, weather events.  Location, the Hilltowns of western Massachusetts.
Hardiness Zone 5B, rural.
Most recent dates and posts are to the top.

January 22:  The storm ended up not being what it had been cracked up to be.  No complaints here!

About a foot of the white stuff fell here.  Then, the temps plummeted.   They reached a low of minus 13 F / minus 25 C Monday morning, ie, yesterday.

The cold was worse than the precipitation up here, although down in CT the stuff had turned into freezing rain as it fell, then as a semi-solid sheet of ice.  So, my old digs had about 5 inches of stuff, with that sheet of ice.   (I had to go down last night to check my forced hot water heating system after a power outage earlier that morning.  Fortunately the power was not off long enough to make me a mess.  Another reason I am glad I have forced hot air heat here in MA.  May be less efficient, but works fine, and any burst system will only spew hot air around.  A lot easier to clean up after!)

I’d never met minus 13 F before (this included wind chills in the minus 30 F / 35 C mark), but still had to go give chickens some liquid-phase water (and their feed, but it was water that was critical).  I can bundle up effectively, but definitely need to up my game on doing this.  BTW, the chickens were fine in their protected coop, but 3 of four eggs laid that day were cracked from freezing.  I must have come upon that other egg shortly after it was laid!

January 19:   Prepping for a Big One.

Prediction:  over two feet of snow is scheduled to be dumped upon us overnight and through most of Sunday.  If it’s less than that, the “less” will be taken up with ice, so having the “more” is probably better, since we’re not going to be able to avoid the path.

Since my Internet is satellite, and my cell service provides maybe some text occasionally, I’ll be non-communicating Sunday almost certainly.  Overnight after the storm, temps will plunge to about 0, and that’s Fahrenheit.

Chickens:  Bringing them a whole new pack of pine chip shavings, storage in bin.  Bringing down an additional 25 lbs of their food for the bin.  Since I can’t store their water down there – they don’t like “solid phase dihydrogen oxide”, I’m filling water containers up here in the house should my power go out – probably  it won’t but since I won’t be driving anywhere for a bit, better safe than sorry.  For both of us.  (Well, there’s always wine, but they’re not old enough for alcohol.)  A snow shovel is down there, and their broom will be brought back down later today.  Their oyster shell and grit containers are prepared for their near-future needs.  Since the new freeze-proof water pan won’t be in for a few days, I will be picking them up a new pan later this morning.

Me:  Car will be IN the garage, not left outside.  Dump run this morning is scheduled.  All devices will be charged – not that I can use them when the satellite and phone goes down, but… I can read the Kindle!!  Grill will be covered.  I know where the charcoal and matches are, and I’ve food that doesn’t need cooking in the event the lights go out, too.  Flashlights / lanterns available.  All of Christmas has been taken down – I’m speaking of those outdoor lights; the tree had left the building a while ago.  Compost will be composted before this starts – want to minimize my wading through snow to just performing  chicken errands.  I picked up 40 lbs of rock salt earlier this week; need to move it to where it will be most useful.

NO, I am not picking up the stereotypic milk or bread – I don’t consume hardly any of either even without snow.  And there’s leftover milk anyway from last weekend’s house guests.  Plenty of TP here for half a year.

I’ve done bigger ones (Indiana, ’78, and a couple nor’easters in CT) but I’ve not been responsible for chickens before.  It’s also a lot longer to walk to neighbors, now.

January 18:  Equipment fail.

With winter, the chicken waterer buckets freeze up at their port of water exit, since that’s narrow.  Whether you use the nipple system or the usual hanging waterer.  So, I’ve resorted to kitty litter pans (new and virgin of course).  Add hot tap water, let chickens drink, and refurbish whenever the temperature indicates it will freeze.

Well, when you try to remove the ice so you can re-fill it, and the temps are at, say, 6 degrees F / 14 C, the plastic those things are made from are not hardy for that purpose.  Yesterday, one of mine broke apart completely, shattering in the cold, whilst I was trying to remove a layer of ice so I could add their water.  Chickens aren’t fond of trying to drink frozen-phase liquids… wonder why???

I have stopgaps until the new pans arrive, but I scratched my noodle, and recalled that back when I was a career scientist, we had nifty pans and other containers  that held dry ice (frozen CO2/carbon dioxide – a negative 109 F / negative 78 C) or liquid nitrogen (negative 320.4 F / negative 196 C), with no ill effect to the container.  Ahem, I now have a couple on order.  Not that I’ll ever be providing liquid nitrogen to them, but I know my new containers won’t break due to the cold temperatures we are apt to get here.  Or, say, anywhere else on this planet.

You don’t want something deep, but you do want a pan big enough to water your chickens.  Get a couple.

January 10:  I’m getting ambitious for this coming year.

Chickens:  All my layers are happy and healthy, and I believe I have a good number of poultry in their coop, so unless things change, I am not ordering any layers this spring.

My eventual goal is to have a self-sustaining chicken setup here, so I do want to check out the dual purpose, and mostly heritage, poultry breeds for meat production.  I found five breeds I wanted to try, that would/should also be good for laying (when I try that later).  So, I ordered 2 males of each from Meyer Hatchery.  Cool, but… they told me it was a $30 shipping fee for ten, but if I raised my ante to 15, they’d be shipped for $15 in shipping.  I went for the latter.  Two males of each:  Barred Rock, Buckeyes, Delaware, Silver-Grey Dorkings, Cuckoo Marans, Speckled Sussex, Welsummers.  One New Hampshire Red.  I know that most, if not all of these, will take longer to reach maturity than the broilers I ran last summer.  But I’m wanting to raise up my own poultry down the road.

I’ll need to build a secondary chicken tractor between now and then, since 15 cockerels in the original tractor is overkill.  This will be fine, just need to get my plans in place during this season when the snow flies!

homesteading, eggs, egg holder.

Egg holder for unwashed eggs. Do have the thing tilt so you are safe if a little too much pressure is on the wrong side. (Ask me how I know…)

My other goals this year (that relate to homesteading):

Raised beds.  I’ve plotted out what I want to grow, and how to do crop rotation, and that one of those beds will be perennial (obviously no crop rotation there).

Quails.  I’ve found a hatchery that will sell me 50 straight run.  I’d love to find someone in town who will take the extra 20-25, since I really don’t want 50.  I’d house them almost immediately outside my back door (leaving room for my planned greenhouse.)  Working on this.

Buy a homesteading tractor.  I’ve got the Yanmar in mind.  A couple models in mind, but more later.

Plot and design for four-legged livestock.  At the moment, I am serious about Shetland and/or Soay sheep, Kiko meat goats, mohair goats, alpaca.  They cannot happen this year… they need housing, fencing, perhaps a livestock guardian.  This is a year for intensive research, not actually bringing them on board.  It will obviously not be all of the above, but the options for what I do get are open.  At least one or two of the above would be for breeding, raising up my own herd.  (NO DAIRY! NO PATIENCE!)

I also want to keep the option open for feeder pigs, it is really NOT practical to raise up pigs on a small farmstead.

Maple syrup.  I have a lot of sugar maples on this property.  Some that are relatively more easily accessed will be tapped NEXT winter for the syrup, and even for maple water.  I am not a fan of sugar in any form – I go through about 5-8 ounces of maple syrup a year – but I could sell some and keep some around for my own usage, and it would be a lot better than regular sugar anyway.  I do love the flavor:  if properly refrigerated, maple water (not concentrated down to the 1:40 necessary for syrup, but tested to a tasty but less sweet level) would be a lovely taste treat.  Yes, this would HAVE to be frozen, or similar, until use.  At any rate, I’ll be marking the appropriate trees this coming September.  I’ll even look into birch syrup, why not?

Honey bees:  More for fertilizing my crops than for actual honey, but, hey!  This would not happen this next year, but I’ll certainly plan for this, as well as for native bee habitat.  The latter may well actually happen this coming year…

January 3rd:  This morning I went out to collect eggs.

One thing with freezing weather is that in addition to a regular water feeder in the coop, I have a kitty litter pan with water… pour in hot tap water a couple times a day and it won’t freeze so fast.

This morning I found a new treat… an egg laid into the kitty litter pan of water; the water was lightly frozen on top.

Hmm.  It did have a longitudinal crack so I tossed it, who knows what got inside.

Water, my dear birds, is NOT a place to lay your eggs.  You are NOT salmon who fight your way upstream to lay ikura for me to sample!

I’d been wondering about my rooster.  He was either celibate or shy.  I found out yesterday on a mid-day hen-house check that he’s just very fast, wham bam thank you ma’am.  Yasukai, my small Australorpe, barely noticed.

I hope in the spring… but not until spring… one or two hens go broody.  The likelihood is for hybrid offspring, as I’ve four breeds here.  Will be interesting.