Tag Archives: chickens

Grey Winter Days

Not My Favorite Color

Grey winter days can be challenging. I hate grey. It doesn’t matter if it is the color of a comfy pair of corduroy pants, grey depresses me. Grey skies that go on for days at a time, coupled with extreme cold that keeps me in the house, will eventually drag me down.

For this whole first week of January, not only has it been grey, but the night time temperatures have been down in the single digits, as low as -1 degree Fahrenheit yesterday. During the day it has been hovering in the teens. One day there were winds gusting to 40 MPH from a storm the weather people were calling “the Bomb” which dumped snow all along the East coast. It brought snow to Florida and Georgia, with Charleston, South Carolina getting a foot. We only got about 2 inches of the (at least pretty) white stuff, mostly we just got grey.

Out in the Barn-Chickens

It is amazing to me that my chickens do not seem too bothered by this cold. They have heated water buckets, and I spread hay for dry bedding, but still. I feel my nose hairs freeze as soon as I walk outside to do chores and I have to breathe through my fleece collar. When I open the barn door, the younger chickens are all spread out like a down filled, 84 piece, patchwork quilt.

Live Feathered Quilt

They are all talking up a storm as I wade through them and refill their feeders.  Barred Rocks, Araucanas, Buff Orpingtons and Golden Comets all scramble  over each other as I toss some yummy 5 grain scratch on the floor. Then all grows quiet as they work on scarfing it all down. The pan of sprouted wheat and barley I give the laying hens disappears faster than water drops on a hot griddle.

The chickens prefer the long pulls of water they can get from open water, but the one-gallon plastic ice cream buckets quickly freeze solid. The heated waterers have little metal nipples the chickens have to press in with their beaks and they only get a drop or two at a time. Water is better than ice at washing down breakfast though, and the clicking sound of beaks hitting nipple waterers tells me they are drinking.

A Natural Type Horse

My horse, Mara, comes and goes in the barn as she pleases. Her meals of hay and grain are served there, and she has her own heated water bucket, but she mostly prefers to be outside. Her favorite spot is out back with her butt parked up against a big multiflora rose bush.

Mara Near Her Bush

The morning sun, if there is any, can reach her there and the bush blocks the west wind. She grows a thick coat of fur every winter which does a good job keeping her warm. The only time I lock her in the barn is during  ice storms or when we are expecting rain and then a quick deep freeze. There have only been a few times when she stupidly stood outside in the rain, right before a cold wind storm, and I needed to dry her off with a towel so she would not get cold. Usually she regulates herself fairly well, moving naturally between the shade of trees and the sunny open pasture.

I have seen Facebook posts declaring it cruel to not put winter coats on horses. That is ridiculous and must be coming from people who have no actual experience tending livestock. A horse blanket, or coat, prevents a horse from growing a good natural coat of fur and can do more harm than good. Imagine what it would feel like to wear a soggy, wet coat outside in the winter. Supplying a run in shed where your horse can stay dry and out of the wind is what works.

I can see using a fresh, dry blanket to warm them if they occasionally manage to get wet just before a sudden temperature drop. In that case you need to rub them down, dry them off, and get them warmed up quickly. That is why you have to sometimes lock them in the barn until the wet stuff stops falling. I don’t think a blanket should be substituted for shelter.

My horse will occasionally stand outside and get covered in snow just to see if I care, I think. She knows I will go out and brush her off and give her extra hay in the nice, dry barn if I see her at risk of getting cold. She does not like to be locked up in the barn though, so unless it is really bad outside, I let her decide. Last year when we had 42 inches of snow all at once, I locked her up, and the snow sliding off the roof created walls on the open south side. I had already stapled plastic up on the east side, because the storm was blowing in from that direction, so the extra snow wall made it nice and snug in there. Usually our winter weather comes in from the  northwest and the barn has solid wood walls on those sides.

White Snow v. Grey Skies

The bad thing about a deep, deep, snowfall is worrying about the weight of all that snow on the roof. A wet snow can be really heavy and could collapse the barn, or the house. I keep a ladder out by the barn so I can get up on the roof and shovel it off if I have to. In the last twenty five years, I have only had to do that twice, but I slept better knowing the barn would not crush the critters overnight. So far this winter we have not had a substantial snow, but we have a ways to go yet.

Light Snow

Today, it is not only a dreary grey, they are calling for freezing rain. The temperature has gone all the way up to 26 degrees F and would probably feel almost balmy, if the sun was out. So I am inside, by the woodstove, doing inside things like cooking, writing, and drinking hot tea. It is not windy and I am starting to see a few snow flurries, which would be way better than freezing rain. Maybe we will have a fresh layer of bright, white snow and the sun will come out tomorrow highlighting a clear blue sky. Here’s hoping.

-Wendy lee, writing at Edgewise Woods Gardens and Critters


Foxes, Chickens, Dogs and Veggies

Blue Ridge Cabin in Springtime Fog

It can be hard to find time for all the springtime chores and harder yet to write about it, especially when the weather and my thoughts turn foggy and gray for days on end. I am much more productive when the sun is shining.

Wild Critters v Chickens

Our resident Mama Fox has six babies this spring, and they are more than the usual degree of hungry. She usually only takes about three chickens each spring before the babies learn how to hunt on their own, but we have lost seven hens, a duck and my rooster, who I have had for many years. He was such a good boy. The hens don’t seem to miss him but I do.

Baby Foxes
Baby Fox

The electric fence around the chicken pasture works great as long as there is no long grass zapping it’s energy away. It also helps to remember to plug it back in after clearing the grass off the bottom. The fox was able to dig under the fence because it was not plugged in. My fault. I feel so guilty when I fail to protect my flock.

Electric Fence for Hens

Meanwhile, I am feeding the fox kits cat food over by their den in an attempt to stave off their hunger and hopefully prevent more chicken losses. The babies roll around and tussle with each other just like puppies and are fun to watch. I just hope they learn how to eat rabbits and mice soon.

Baby Fox
Who Me? Eat Chickens?

Yesterday I was finally getting around to cutting down the last dried Miscanthus grass and discovered a bird nest with five eggs in it. I had to prop the cut grass back up to protect it. The eggs were blue with brown speckles. I walked close later when I did chores and the mama was back on the nest but I did not get a good view and am not sure what kind of bird it is yet. I was glad she came back though.

Divided Hostas and Miscanthus

I managed to divide two of my Big Blue Hostas and the other giant Miscanthus grass recently and potted them up with compost from last years barn cleaning. Two Hostas yielded 12 extra plants which I can trade.

The Veggie Garden

The week of April 15, it was still getting down in the 30’s (F) and 40’s at night, but getting up in the 70’s and 80’s during the day. Frost was still possible, so tender plants needed the protection of the hoop house .

Little Hoophouse


I worked some compost into the beds and sowed tomatoes, basil, cauliflower,  lettuce, and peppers for transplanting out later. After covering them with a protective layer of cloth (a recycled wedding runner) I watered them in. The hoop house is open on both ends but I attached some cloth near the bottom to keep a little wind out.

My grandson got the tiller working again (rusty magneto) so I finally planted potatoes April 17th. I usually try to plant them around St Patricks Day in March but we had snow that week. I planted 6 short rows of Yukon Golds and Norland Reds leftover from last years bumper crop where I had buckwheat last year. This plot is outside the garden fence but deer don’t like potatoes, so it should be OK.  They are up as of April 26th.

A few days later,I planted two rows of pole beans along the insides, figuring on removing the plastic after frost danger, allowing the vines to climb all over the frame. The tomatoes and cauliflower are all up as of April 26th.

Remay Over Corn

The ground was a still little  cool for planting corn April 18th, so I covered the whole area with Remay cloth to help warm it and also to keep the crows from eating the sprouting seeds.

We are eating a little asparagus from the bed I planted last year along the fence and we are still eating the Kale that overwintered really well. The garlic that was planted last fall is also doing well.

Wintered Over Garlic and Kale

If the blossoms on the blueberries and strawberries all turn into fruit we will have a great crop. Last year frost damaged the blooms and we did not get as much as usual. I actually had to buy 🙁 some frozen strawberries this winter for Jeff’s morning protein shakes.

 New Dog Fence

After finally cleaning out the front barn, I set up a new solar powered, electric, woven fence for visiting dogs to play in. I ordered the 160 feet of poultry netting, the 10 watt solar panel, a 12 volt, 18 amp hour battery and the Hotshock charger ( uses either 110V or 12 volts) from Premier 1Supplies. I recommend this company. They answer all kinds of questions via chat so you can figure out your best plan, such as,  how big of a solar panel and what kind of battery are needed for your job.

Solar Fence Charger

I am using a ladder as the people access until I make a real gate. I take care of other peoples critters  and bringing the dogs home with me can make it easier to give them outside time. They are safely away from the chickens and have shady trees, grass,  sun and barn space.

Ladder as People Door

Spring is one of my favorite times of the year but there is so much to do before the hot weather sets in. In the meantime, it is gorgeous just walking around the yard and enjoying the flowers.

Phlox divaricata
Tree Peony

On the long rainy days, I must remember the lush green growth and flowers that will emerge because of the dreary days.

Fog on the Blue Ridge



Wendy lee Maddox, writing at Edgewise woods, Gardens and Critters











Winter Water Buckets

No More Frozen Water Buckets

In 2016 I upgraded my winter water buckets to  heated dog bowls for the chickens and dogs (well, more for the wild birds, since the dogs are inside a lot) and a 3 gallon heated bucket for Mara, my horse. This was a major improvement. Daily barn chores became much easier. No more ice chopping and shattered plastic buckets for me.

January 2017 has arrived, with a new division in the hen house holding 25 young Golden Comets, due to start laying in April.  They were hatched October 26 (the same day my new granddaughter was born ) and the chicks have all feathered out but still have a Mama Light Bulb to get warm under. With temps in the teens, their unheated waterer has frozen every night for the past week.

This winter we also have three Mallard ducks I could not resist bringing home from the feed store last Spring. They share feed, pasture and barn space with the laying hens and our one Rooster quite well, but they make a complete mess of the communal water bowl. I have  to clean and refill their water bowl twice each day. It wasn’t much of a problem when the ducks had their swimming trough outside but I put it and the water hoses away when winter hit.

I was trying to design a waterer that only the chickens could reach and was thinking of a raised platform surrounded by a perch for the chickens to jump up on. Ducks don’t seem able to jump or perch at all, so I figured it would keep them out. Then I saw a Nipple Waterer, which has little drip nozzles that the birds peck at to release the water.  Both the chickens and the ducks learned how to work the foot pedaled feeder in only 2 weeks this summer so surely they can learn how to drink from drippers.

The company I purchased the electric (anti-fox) poultry fence from has this Heated Nipple Waterer and I have ordered 2 of them, one for each chicken pen. I can’t wait to set them up.

Premier1Supplies-Heated Poultry Waterer
Premier1Supplies-Heated Poultry Waterer

This will supply all the chickens and ducks with clean, ice free water year round. Handy  things like this make me really appreciate having electricity and running water in the house and in the barn!

My ultimate goal is to figure out how to warm and power the barn using solar. I have visions of a sunken greenhouse…

-Wendy lee, writing at Edgewisewoods, Gardens and Critters



Snowstorm Jonas

Snowstorm Jonas

I love that we get names for winter storms now. Instead of having to talk about the “Big Snow of 96” we can say “Yeah, in 2016 Snowstorm Jonas hit Shepherdstown and we got the  biggest snowfall on the East Coast! 40.5 inches of snow in one storm! We rock!” Actually we rock around on the floor after shoveling all that snow, in an attempt to ease our aching backs. And then we hang upside down on an inversion table trying to get straightened back up.

The snow is beautiful,  but worrisome too. My barn has an awful lot of weight sitting on it and since I built it myself  I know I did not plan on dealing with 40 inches of snow back then. I should have used bigger supports, more bracing, etc. I had to lock Mara, my horse, up in the barn for two days during the storm because she was going to let herself get all snowy and cold outside. Then I didn’t sleep very well because I was afraid of the roof collapsing on her. So far it hasn’t but now the weather folks say it might rain tomorrow and that would make the snow REALLY heavy. Considering that it was 8 degrees F this morning it is hard to imagine rain happening, but I think I will still have to see if I can knock some of that snow off, just in case. I put a nice slippery metal roof on 3/4 of the barn roof last year so it should slide. Maybe if I started a fire underneath? Just kidding, not going there.

Barn with new plastic wind guard
Barn with new plastic wind guard

OK, just got back inside from shoveling off the part of the barn roof over the horse stalls. It did not slip off at all. I had to push and pull it with a rake and only removed about half but I feel better now.

My little mini greenhouse has not collapsed, which I am happy about, even though there is nothing in there right now. There have been reports of some big hoop houses nearby not making it.

Mini Greenhouse Out in the Garden
Mini Greenhouse Out in the Garden
Happy Chickens
Happy Chickens

I splurged and bought electric water buckets this year and I am really appreciating them and so are the horse, the chickens and the wild birds. I had to pull the pump from the water garden right before the storm because it got jammed with frogs (it was terrible, their legs were stuck in it) and I did not get it back in before it froze, so there is no open water for the deer and birds and other wild critters. I will put a pump sock around it before I re install it when the pond thaws. I thought that the skimmer box I installed last year was going to keep the frogs out but they found a way around the strainer basket.

I have been using my snowshoes (after adding some additional leather laces to them), that Jeff bought me a couple years ago from REI, to tramp down pathways, one to the road, one to the neighbors barn with the two donkeys , Emma and Elmo. My neighbor is not well enough to make it out there herself and nobody can drive to her house yet. The “Long Ears” were pretty sure I was a monster when I came clomping up to them yesterday and they wern’t much better today. They were snorting and carrying on. They now have a path to their heated water trough, and I gave them hay, so they are good. The guy with the plow is supposed to make it out maybe today or tomorrow and do our shared 600 foot driveway.

our driveway is two snowshoes wide
our driveway is two snowshoes wide

The paved road out front has one lane opened up by some very nice neighbors with tractors and plows. No highway department yet. They are working on the main roads first.  I walked up the road, which is a tunnel of pristine  white snow,  to help dig out  my husbands parents and on the way back some people in a 2 wheel drive car were out there  and got stuck, of course. A helpful guy in a pickup , who could have been plowing instead, had to help them get out  and I heard him say, “Now please go back where you started and park it. It is only one lane and we need the road clear for emergencies.”  Update: the roads department got to it Monday afternoon and now it is almost two lanes wide.  I am going to have to dig the mailbox out soon.

No mail for awhile yet...
No mail for awhile yet…

I have tons of good food put away in the freezer and we have not lost power at all, which is amazing. We rarely do lose it here, although the next house down the road is on a different substation and they lose it all the time. Their lines go through some large trees. We have been eating venison stew, pumpkin pie and our fresh eggs. The chickens have slowed down during this storm but there are plenty for us. I have ordered 50 new chicks  to arrive in the spring to replace our old laying hens, and another 25 chicks for eating.

I hear people complaining about being cooped up in the winter, but I love it. I love the excuse to stay inside and do all the things I won’t do when it is too nice outside. When I feel antsy, I go do something energetic outside, and then appreciate coming back in when I get cold. There is time to sit by the fire now and I can read, sew, cook, write. The animals give me a reason to get up and be outside a couple times a day and I am not working at the moment, so I don’t have to go anywhere. It is all good.

-Wendy lee, writing at   edgewisewoods and gardens