We knew that chickens would eat mice, but had no idea that the ducks would. The ducks were walking across the yard and Cactus took off quickly and caught this little guy and killed it. I stopped watching after that.
Since it was so nice out, we took the ducklings out into the garden to wander around. This was their first time outside, and they dutifully followed my step-son around and ate little grass hoppers out of his hands.
The chickens (we’re up to 13 now, with only Brownie remaining of the original flock of four) were quite keen on finding out what the ducks were and why they seemed to be getting treats while the chickens were not.
We only kept the ducks outside for a little while, and like any other pets, I assume that they’ll now be crying to venture outside all the time now. But like any other pet, they’re cute enough when they’re young to make up for any hassles they may cause.
Rainy and in the forties. This is the worst type of weather I face all year. I know, the snow is just gone, and I had to have my chickens live in a tent in my kitchen for a few nights, but hiking in and saving the chickens from the bitter cold were easy decisions. This weather presents a much tougher decision: whether to burn the precious little dry wood I have left.
Even with a few weeks off from the cabin this winter, my wood supply is quite low now. The wood I found over the winter isn’t quite dry enough to burn, and it’s a tough call to use up wood when it’s still above freezing. If the temperature doesn’t dip too low, I’ll bundle up with a sleeping bag and run the little propane heater for a little while in the morning before it warms up outside. But this cold damp calls for a fire.
I’ve got the glass doors wide open, and the fire is crackling away behind the grate that keeps the sparks in. I didn’t realize how much of a difference the new stove really made until just the other day. I had a fire going with the grate in place, and when I came back in I noticed a smell I hadn’t smelled in some time. The cabin smelled like wood smoke, and it was actually pleasant. That smell had been ruined for me by the old woodstove, which used to belch smoke inside with such regularity that I was sometimes called the Walking Woodstove.
I like being able to hear the pop and crackle and have an unobstructed view of the flames. Sure, it’s not all that efficient to use the grate, but honestly, I don’t want it too hot in here. The trouble with the temps in the forties is that it’s too cold not to have a fire, but too warm if I do have a fire. And there’s the rub.
It’s just another one of life’s seasonal transitions out here. I have to make calculated decisions on heating and the wood supply. But I also have to be comfortable. It can be a grueling choice to make. There have been, however, several choices I’ve made recently that were considerably easier.
The first was to order more chickens. Amy and I split an order, and I picked them up from the post office yesterday. The little chicks were peeping like crazy in the seat next to me on the way from the post office. With the weather being so damp and cold, the chicks will be staying at Amy’s for a couple of weeks. Plus, I don’t want Midget to get too rough with the new girls. They have to be big enough to put him in his place, even if judging by the behavior of Whitey, Brownie, and Blondie he is quite the charmer.
I’m excited to expand the group with a few new girls. A silver laced wyandotte and three Auraucanas are going to be joining the flock in a couple of weeks, just when the weather gets nice. In addition to these four new girls, I took a fertilized egg from each of my current girls to Amy’s. She has a hen that’s very broody right now, and I thought it would be fun to see if she’ll hatch some of Midget’s offspring. This hen was just sitting in an empty nesting box when I got there. She’s so intent on sitting on eggs that she wouldn’t get up when I pushed her. I had to lift her butt and put the eggs down underneath her. She made a quiet noise and settled back in, so we’ll see how it goes.
And finally, as much as doubling my chicken flock may impact my life, this final decision will no doubt have a bigger impact. I’m sorry to say, but I will in all likelihood not be living in this cabin at the end of the year. I asked my girlfriend to marry me, and for some strange, unknown, and possibly unknowable reason, she said yes. And fortunately or unfortunately, my little cabin is no place for us to start our lives together.
I give her a lot of credit for putting up with my living situation for so long. For almost two years she has never once complained about the toilet paper being in the oven, or having to hike in, or being covered in dog fur when she leaves. I guess I owe it to her for us to find a place that has indoor plumbing, electricity, TV, internet, a refrigerator, and an oven. I can go either way on the electricity or TV, but my bride-to-be deserves nothing but the best. And in my opinion, indoor plumbing is the best. Jeez, I’ve been out here too long.
The sun is shining later and later each day, and some of the snow is melting and dripping off of the roof in front of the big window. It’s officially been spring for almost a week now, but don’t bother telling Mother Nature that. The forecasted thirteen degrees below zero tonight isn’t as bad as the negative twenty-three we got a couple of nights ago, so I guess, in a way we are getting more spring-like temperatures. But again, temperatures in the negative teens aren’t that spring-like to me.
I’ve been back at the cabin full time, and having a few weeks off from living out here was definitely nice. After three winters having to haul in water and use an outhouse no matter the temperature, the shine of living off grid has worn off. I still enjoy many, many aspects of it, but this winter has definitely been a mood killer for me. I was able to tap a few of the maple trees the other day and start collecting sap, but it’s been slow going with the cold returning. And the hike up the driveway isn’t any easier than it was in February.
But while the winter goes on, I cling to the knowledge that spring is indeed near. I certainly don’t feel alone in my antipathy towards winter at this point, but there are still some advantages to having this much snow on the ground.
Last night I was driving home just after dark and spotted a flash of white on the side of the road up ahead. Yes, I know that everything is covered in snow that there are “flashes of white” literally everywhere, but this small patch was moving quickly. My initial thought was that it was deer hopping the snow bank to head into the woods. But with the more than two feet of snow on the ground at my cabin, deer tracks are something I haven’t seen in quite a few months.
I instinctively tapped the breaks and looked for another deer. Usually when there’s one, there’s more, and hitting a deer and wrecking my car at this point would probably make me throw up my hands and move back to Florida. I looked up and saw a spread of wings in front of me, and realized that it wasn’t a deer but the tail end of a rather large owl taking off that I had caught a glimpse of.
The owl wasn’t very far in front of me, but I never got a good look at it because it was flying directly away from me. It had a wingspan of a couple of feet and was certainly impressive in size, but what species it was I couldn’t say.
I wondered why the owl had been on the snow bank so I stopped to have a look. I had obviously interrupted a kill in progress, and after snapping a few photos, I moved on. I didn’t want to keep the owl from his fresh meal. Plus, after this rough winter, I kind of feel like all of us up here are in it together. Even the animals.
I can freely admit that I am not an expert in basically anything, but let me give you some advice: Don’t share your four-hundred square foot anything with a dog, a cat, three hens, and a rooster. Now, nothing against the chickens, but they are noisy. And stinky. And no matter what, the rooster will crow whenever he feels like it, regardless of your sleep schedule.
With temperatures predicted to be about thirty below zero without the wind chill, I decided that the time had come to let the chickens have a nice warm night inside. Now, keep in mind that the chickens had not ever been inside my cabin. Nor had Pico ever been separated from them by nothing more than a blanket. Needless to say, I did not get much sleep last night.
For instance, did you know that roosters crow all the time, not just in the morning? I did, but I did not realize how often Midget would crow. I did not realize that every time he crowed, Pico would answer with a round of barking. I also did not realize the scope or variety of odd, obnoxious, and just plain weird sounds that the chickens would make when they spend the night just a few feet from my bed.
It has been an absurdly cold winter, and even though the chickens had made it this far with nothing more than a little frostbite, thirty below turned out to be the line I drew in the sand. I spent a few hours yesterday afternoon trying to decide the best way to house them inside my cabin. Not having a dog cage or anything of the sort, I had to improvise.
I grabbed the large black sled I use for hauling firewood and brought it inside. I commandeered an old blanket and draped it from the sink down to the sled to create a chicken tent inside my cabin. Then I spent the better part of half an hour rounding up and corralling the chickens so I could catch them. Midget and Brownie were easy, and even though Blondie tried to hide, she was still relatively easy to get a hold of. Whitey, on the other hand, is sketchy. I mean seriously sketchy. She reminds me of one of those movie characters who thinks the government is on to them, and goes to extreme lengths to avoid being caught. Except in this case, I actually was trying to catch her.
I managed to get my numb hands on her after quite a while of trying. She was not happy about it, but when I deposited her in the chicken tent she seemed to settle down. There was food and an unfrozen bowl of water in the sled, along with her compatriots. Midget however, was not so fond of the tent. I could hear him clucking and occasionally crowing. I could also see a small part of the blanket moving when he walked around inside.
Now, this tent was not set up to be a perfect place for them to live. But it was a necessity, and managed to keep Pico and Herbie out, while somehow managing to keep the chickens in. For a while.
This morning, I decided that I should put them outside, but not until the sun came up. Unfortunately, even after the sun came up, it was still well below zero outside, like twenty below zero. I had to run to town, and decided that Pico should come with me. He’s not a killer per se, but I have no doubt that he would have found his way into the chicken tent and caused havoc. Best case scenario if I left him home: Chicken crap everywhere in my house. It was not a risk I was willing to take.
So off we went, while the chickens camped out in the balmy interior of my cabin. When we got home, I was torn on whether to put them outside. It was sunny and deceivingly nice looking outside, but the temperature never really got above zero. With Midget and Whitey showing frostbite on their combs, I decided that I would not subject them to the move from seventy degrees to ten below zero. But that was before Blondie and Midget found an escape route.
I was sitting at the table chatting with my girlfriend when we heard some commotion and looked up only to see Blondie strutting around the carpet at the front door. Midget popped out as I was watching, and Whitey was trying very hard to follow suit. I shoved Whitey back into the tent and grabbed Midget and Blondie and put them back too. The sounds that followed convinced me that they would benefit from some fresh air and freedom. I may have also figured that I would benefit from them getting some fresh air. I again grabbed Midget and Blondie and transferred them outside. After an hour or so, I figured that I may as well put Brownie and Whitey out too.
Now, I wasn’t trying to torture them or cause harm, but the outside space seemed to do them some good. They got a few hours out in the sun, and I managed to round them up with less effort than yesterday. Now they’re back in the tent, making crazy sounds and stinking the place up. Luckily, the weather should be getting warmer in a day or two, because honestly, they are not good roommates. I’m not sure how this reflects on me, but they are also not the worst roommates I’ve ever had either. I guess I’d rather listen to a rooster crow at five in the morning than listen to some guy scream at a video game at four in the morning. You know what, this doesn’t reflect on me at all. At least this time I’m in control of when the obnoxious roommates move out.
Well, the low temperature last night was still above zero for the first time in a week. It’s not much, but it’s something to look forward to. And then tomorrow they’re saying that the highs will be above freezing. It has been a wild winter so far, weather-wise.
While the rest of the nation was experiencing record cold last week, we were watching the snow melt and the ruts in the driveway disappear. Then we had bone chilling cold with nasty wind. So much so that if I didn’t check the chicken coop every hour or so for eggs, the eggs I did find would be frozen and cracked.
One nice development out here at the cabin is that Brownie the chicken has started laying eggs too. Nice light brown ones that make the egg carton look so pleasant. With Whitey and Brownie laying now pretty much every day, I’m getting more eggs than I can eat. At least when I find them unfrozen.
But back to the weather. It was so windy the other night that I actually had to prop one of the chairs up against the door to keep it from blowing open. The corner of the old woodshed roof lifted and had to be repaired (the people who built it only used about twenty screws for the eight sheets of metal, so no wonder it pulled away from the shed). I’ll have to keep an eye on it the next time it gets windy like that.
The one upside of the wind is that I had several trees come down. I could hear the popping and crunching of branches falling all night a few nights ago, and when I took Pico for a walk to check on the upper cabin, I found about a half dozen green ash trees down.
This was a huge bonus for several reasons. First, they fell right across the road to upper camp, making them very easy to get to. I can use the sled to bring firewood back or let it sit until spring and use the four-wheeler. Either way, it’s a bunch of wood that I don’t have to work too hard for. For once.
Second, and more importantly, with the ridiculous cold we’ve had, I am burning through wood faster than ever. And it’s not the stove. The new stove is far more efficient. I get about eight hours of burn time with three big logs in there when I put it on the most efficient mode. The old stove would have needed six or seven logs jammed into it to last that long. But, it’s just been so cold that I can’t have the stove shut down all the way for the most efficient burn. I need some air getting in there so that the temperature in the house stays comfortable.
With the wood shed about halfway empty, and three solid months of non-stop burning left in the winter, I’ll be dipping into next year’s firewood before the winter is out. It’s a good thing I started working on that in the fall. I already have about three cords tarped and split, so when the shed gets empty, I have a little safety net. It’ll just mean more work and more money next winter, but I can’t stop burning wood and just turn on the furnace.
I have to admit, I kind of miss the days when the heat was just on. It didn’t require any work or effort, just had to set the temperature and go about your day. And sure, the wood stove keeps it steadily comfortable in here, but at what expense? Year-round work trying to find and cut and haul and split and stack and carry and burn wood. It’s a ton of work, and then add to it the unpredictable length of winter and it becomes a lot of stress too. Luckily for me, one of my favorite ways to relieve stress is to cut trees up with my chainsaw.
As is my new custom, I’m sitting at the table looking out the big window at the winter weather, and I’m sweating. The new stove is amazing, but way too large for my little cabin. A wealth of heat is not necessarily a bad thing in my circumstance, but knowing that the interior of the cabin is a temperature that in the summer I would deem too hot is a little disconcerting.
I open one of the windows a little more, since all four windows that open are already open. I’m greeted with sounds that are both welcome and unwelcome at the same time. The sound of snow and ice dripping off of the roof is nice, but the sound of freezing rain joining the melting is unpleasant. I woke up to about a half-inch of ice covering everything, and while I by no means got the worst of this storm, it is not enjoyable to be living through another ice storm. I can also hear the small stream out back, rushing like crazy. The stream really only flows in the spring normally, and to hear it running now makes a constant sound of traffic. It is eerily out of place here.
Around noon today I went out and started my car. I wanted to get as much ice off of it as possible before the second round of rain/sleet/freezing rain began. It was only a little below freezing, so the ice started to peel off, but because it was so thick, it took me most of an hour with the defroster and an ice scraper to get to the point where I could theoretically drive. The radio playing in the car told me to stay off the roads for unnecessary travel. But I was out of beer.
I had other reasons for making the four mile trip to the store. I only had a little gas in the car, and just in case I needed to use it as a generator for a few days, I figured I better fill it up. I also wanted to get the paper, and of course find out the gossip from whoever was working. I quickly discovered that the most dangerous part of my journey was the driveway. The main roads were fine, but I took it slow anyway.
I got back to the cabin and read the paper and did the crossword. Well, most of the crossword. Okay, some of the crossword. I found out at the store that we didn’t get the brunt of the storm. I’m glad for that, and that everyone around here seems to have power still. Not that it affects me, but everyone else I know relies on the power and phone lines.
It’s not that I got off scott-free though. My firewood is wet. Not all of it, but a decent portion anyway. The old metal roofing that I used had holes in it when I put it up over the summer, but during the summer and fall rains, very little water leaked through the roof and into the shed. The problem this time is that the eight inches of snow on top of the shed got iced up and couldn’t drain fast enough. Every little hole in the roofing started to leak, and that’s the end of that. There’s nothing I can do at this point short of moving all nine face cords or so into another shed that now contains tools, an old woodstove and lots of other crap. Not that I would move all that wood anyway, but that’s my only option.
I’ve been picking and choosing the dry pieces farther down in the wood stacks. I’ve also brought a bunch of the wet wood inside and stacked it behind the stove. That should dry it out pretty quickly. The biggest problem is that this weather is supposed to continue through the night and into tomorrow. After that it’s going to be bitter cold again. The cold will freeze the water onto the wood, and I’ll be thawing firewood for the rest of the winter. This is not something I’m looking forward to.
You’d think that after a full two years out here, I’d have all this figured out. But I don’t, and I’m okay with that. It’s a process, a learning experience. I’ve made many, many things better out here, but there’s some things I just can’t control. Like the ridiculous temperature swings. It’s sixty degrees warmer than it was last weekend, and by the middle of the week, it’s supposed to be almost fifty degrees colder than it is now. At least I don’t have to worry about the stove keeping it warm enough during the cold streaks. I just have to worry about having dry wood to put in the stove.
I would like to take a moment to acknowledge that this is the one-hundredth essay I’ve written in the Cabin Life series. I never expected the amount of readers that have found my stories interesting. Thank you for reading, I hope you get as much enjoyment out of these essays as I do. Thank You.
My off-grid, simple living, homesteading lifestyle can sometimes lead me and my thoughts down very different roads than most people. For instance, if you had asked me five years ago, heck, if you had asked me five months ago what would be occupying my thoughts this winter, chicken diapers would not have entered my mind. But here I am, wondering if and where I can get myself some chicken diapers.
Now, I don’t just go around thinking about chicken diapers. I actually have a very good reason for shopping around for just such a thing. It turns out that one of my chickens is in actuality a rooster. Poor old Midget, who is no longer so little, started crowing the other day.
I had noticed some odd behavior a few days ago, but thought that maybe she was just being a jerk to Whitey. I was watching the chickens in their run through the window, and saw Midget jump right on Whitey’s back. Whitey is the one laying eggs, and maybe Midget was just a little jealous. Nope, (s)he was horny.
And much like adolescent males of our own species, Midget’s mounting fiasco was awkward and over quickly. I didn’t really put a lot of thought into it until the next morning. I had let the girls out and was back inside when I heard an odd sound. It happened again quickly, and I easily placed the noise as that of a rooster crowing. I ran to the window to see Midget all puffed up and strutting around. Then he crowed again.
It was not the regal, wake-me-up-for-chores crowing, but unmistakable nonetheless. It sounded like he was going through puberty, with his voice cracking and the crowing kind of unfinished. Instead of cock-a-doodle-do, it was more like cork-a-do. But he was persistent and actually made some progress by the end of the day.
I’m not going to lie, I like Midget. He follows me around the yard when he’s out and has never run when I’ve gone to pick him up. But I don’t want a bunch of little chicks running around either. There’s no way they’d survive during the winter anyway, and I definitely don’t want a bunch of little chicks stuck in a box in my cabin.
And this is what brings me to the diapers. I’m wondering if there is a contraption that will help Midget keep it in his pants, but if not, I’m only left with a few options. Eat him, give him away, or keep him. I could keep him alive this winter, but it will be tough. Without the other chickens to cuddle up to to keep warm, I’ll have to take some extra steps to prevent him from freezing. But I would like to have some more chicks in the spring.
Keeping Midget is the option I’m leaning towards right now, but if I can’t find some chicken diapers, I may end up with big pot of Midget soup.
Yesterday morning, I let the chickens out into their run, just like I always do. I sprinkled some food in there and gave them my customary “Hey Ladies!” I’ve stopped trying to keep them in the run, as they seem to get out now whenever they feel like it.
Even so, I closed the plastic over the opening in the run, and went back inside to have some tea. Whitey is far and away my most vocal chicken, and she was squawking up a storm. I looked out to see her relentlessly attacking the plastic covering the opening, and as I watched, she escaped. But to my surprise, she immediately hopped back into the coop.
Normally, she’d be out and about pecking at the ground, but for some reason, she had gone willingly into the coop. I’m not sure why, but I thought that maybe she was laying an egg. I haven’t had any eggs from the girls yet, but I was expecting them any time.
I went out and looked into the coop. She was in there, in the back corner, not making any noise. I opened the door to the nesting boxes, but there were no eggs. I looked back in at Whitey, crouched in the corner in a small depression in the straw and balsam boughs. All of a sudden, I spotted a smooth white shape right next to Whitey’s feet. Sure enough, it was an egg.
But Whitey was still crouched there in the corner, and quite frankly, she looked constipated. Her body was heaving a little bit and her neck was working its way in and out. Unexpectedly, she dropped an egg. It made a dull thud as it hit the make-shift nest, and Whitey looked considerably relieved. She made a few small noises and took a few steps.
In my excitement, I grabbed a small wooden cane that’s been hanging on the porch since I moved in. I used the curved end to reach into the coop to fetch the eggs. Whitey was not happy about this. She started yelling at me as I reached in and grabbed the eggs. The one she had just laid was still warm, but the other was cold.
I can only imagine when the cold one was laid. As far as I know, Whitey is the only one laying, so it was probably a day or two old. Luckily it’s been cold enough to keep the egg refrigerated for me. I washed the two eggs, and later cooked them for lunch. It wasn’t much of a lunch, as these were small eggs. Deep golden yellow yolks made the scrambled eggs look almost like sunset.
They were delicious, though I’m most likely a little biased. But it was sweet to get something out of the chickens other than a peck to the eye.