Good Lord! Folks, a very belated happy 2013 to you all, and my apologies for the silence of the blog these past many weeks. I’ll go ahead and blame the haze of the holidays plus the unfortunate fact that we’ve all been under the weather a time or two since December. In fact, we closed out the final week of 2012 and limped into 2013 with a house full of the dreaded flu…all of us got it, starting with me, then Son, then both kids. THAT was no fun and knocked us out of commission for a couple weeks.
But, as the Beatles memorably sang: “It’s getting better all the time (couldn’t get much worse…)” We are all on the mend, and getting into the new year’s routine. Sonya started her second semester at USM last week and is getting a handle on her classes and what’s expected of her this term. Lydi is back at preschool, and Ez is back at daycare a few days a week. And Farmer John? I’m a sort of glorified househusband, shuffling kids to and from school, making dinner, keeping house, working on winter projects (mostly indoors at this point), splitting and schlepping firewood, and keeping an eye on the critters.
Those critters are doing well. The sheep are holed up in their winter pen and seem happy enough, particularly when I wander ’round twice a day to dump some fresh hay over their fence. Also, a very belated “thanks!” to our friend, Zakk Maher, for shearing those sheepies way back at the end of November. It’s amazing how much of their wool has grown back since.
The chickens, too, are wintering over just fine. With the periodic thaws and relatively light snow pack this winter, they’ve been less “cooped up” than usual and have been able to wander…they seem to gravitate towards the truck and tractor at the back of the driveway, or to the back steps and asparagus patch near our porch.
And what of the guineas, young and old? Winnie the guinea began the winter mingling with the chickens by day but roosting up in the trees near the driveway by night. As colder, stormier weather began to arrive in December, we wondered and worried…how cold was too cold for a lone guinea 30 or 40 feet up in a tree? Would a nor’easter knock her down? Would she freeze? Eventually, she decided on her own that soldiering on alone wasn’t the best approach…there’s safety and warmth in numbers, right? So, she’s been pretty consistently roosting right in with the chickens in their coop. We approve!
The young guineas are doing the same now, but it took awhile for them to get there. You may recall that the last time I blogged about them, the six guineas were living in a large dog crate inside the sheep shed. I gradually transitioned their food from a wild game starter to the same organic layer pellets we feed the chickens and kept moving their heat lamp higher and higher every couple of days (and left it off during the day). At some point before Christmas, I decided the time had come to let the birds out of their cage. First, I spent some time building a shelf and roost for them against the back wall of the sheep shed, high enough to be out of the sheeps’ way. Once they could come and go as they pleased, they ignored my work altogether. That first day of freedom was actually pretty amusing. After leaving the cage door open for awhile, I went outside to check thingS out and discovered the 6 birds cowering at the back of their cage because Jeffe Blanco had climbed in and was eating their grain! A bit later, I looked out the window to see Jeffe wandering around the sheep area with a guinea hen perched on one of his horns. All 6 eventually came out and explored the yard, staying particularly close to Fiona, for some reason. She didn’t seem to mind.
The tricky part came at night. The young birds didn’t seem to know where to go or what to do. For a stretch there, I had to let myself into the sheep area, find the birds (usually huddled together on the ground), and place them one by one either up on their new roost or back inside their cage. Once they started venturing out of the sheep area and exploring the driveway and the nearby yard and field with the chickens and Winnie, it became even more tricky at bedtime. For a few nights, they tended to huddle up near the stump of an old apple tree next to the driveway, and again, I would carry them into the sheep shed one by one. One evening, I couldn’t find them at all. Did they head for the trees? Under the porch? There was no sign of them. Hoping for the best, I called it a night. The next morning, I discovered that they had been huddled together under the farm truck, and alas, 2 of the little guineas hadn’t made it through the night (it had been a cold one). After this sad event, I really wondered what was going to happen to the rest once the snow flew and once the serious cold of winter set in, but the hens solved their own problem the very next night. They had been mingling with the chickens during the day, and for whatever reason, that evening they followed the hens into their coop and roosted with them. They’ve been doing this ever since, and we’re very relieved about it! In fact, the young quartet seem very comfortable in the chicken coop, very rarely venturing out except for grain and water when they need it. I wonder how things will play out in the spring when the coop begins to move around the farm, but for now we’re pleased that all of our birds are together in one spot. We can lock the coop up at night and know that everyone is warm and safe. Amen.
That’s all, folks, but I do have one announcement: I will once again be performing at the Norway Winter Farmers’ Market on Saturday, March 2nd from 10 AM until 2 PM. The market is held at the First Universalist Church right on Main Street in Norway. Stop by, hear some music, and support a diverse group of local farmers, ranchers, cooks, bakers, and artisans!