Another snowstorm….and it’s officially Spring

Well, we were expecting a little snow, but this is just too much.  It started snowing yesterday, Saturday, evening and has been constant since then with wind speeds up to 35 mph.  We are really stunned to see this.  This is the 3rd major snow for us this winter, and it is highly unusual to get any snowfall during a winter.   We are northeast of Dallas.  The El Nino phenomenon has kicked in big time. 

I got everyone tucked in  Friday  night.  The alpacas got plenty of hay; the chickens got their feeders filled and water topped off.  I cleaned up the barn and everyone had clean places to lounge.  The wind has been straight out of the west and right into the barn and out the other east doors.  We left the roll up doors open in case they wanted to go out, but so far they have not.  They all have a coating of snow on them but are warm enough cushing in the barn.

The chickens filed out of the coops when their little door was opened and milled around.  They don’t mind the weather, and the barn is a space they like to hang out in and they are protected there.

We just stayed in the house and watched it snow.  Monday it is supposed to be in the 60’s so this will all melt soon enough, but we will be back into the wet and mucky ground once again.  More rain is expected this week.  We can’t seem to dry out more than two days before we have more wet weather.

We just were not expecting all this white; it’s about 3 inches on the ground and we are supposed to get another 3 or more today.  Unbelievable North Texas weather.

Country Life for the weekend

Weekend Living in the country is such a nice change from driving to work during the week.  The weekend means we can sleep till 7 instead of 6; we can take a little more time giving everyone their morning feed and even notice and enjoy the sunrise  a little longer.  Nothing feels like work when you enjoy what you do, so the weekend chores are not really chores. I look at them as making a nicer area for the alpacas to lounge in the barn and  cleaner nests in the coops for the chickens to  lay their eggs.

When the barn is clean and freshened up it is a great feeling.  I eliminate hiding places for little mice or a wayward skunk or rabbit.    The chickens plop into their nest boxes and we know we will have more eggs to collect that evening. 

We have had lots of rain so the few days in between that have the sun shining we enjoy the most.  The truck or car get washed of the mud and grime to enjoy for a day or two before the next rain and muddy road. 

The puddles in the pasture dry out enough that we don’t have to wear our Wellies outside.  The alpacas venture out into the pasture to enjoy the new sprigs of spring grass before they are relegated into the barn when the rain starts up again.  They stretch out on the ground to soak up the warm sunshine. I wander over just to make sure they are breathing.   The chickens spread out in the pasture in the warm sunshine to find any new bugs hiding out.

So this weekend the sun is shining until Sunday afternoon, so we are cleaning up around here.  I am looking at the raised beds to get ready for the vegetables I will plant soon.  Green peppers were fabulous last year.  The tomatoes not so much, but this year I will plant them in a different bed and not so close together.   Some  of that alpaca poo and chicken poo will be turned into the soil to add some nutrients before this year’s planting begins.  The trees need a boost of fertilizer.

The robins and cardinals are here now.  I saw a little bird I had never seen before so I am trying to figure out what it is.  The mockingbird is here but not singing yet.  I will clean the hummingbird feeders and hang them out although the migration map shows they are just arriving at the west coast and the storms may interrupt their progress.  The  Monarchs will soon be taking off from Mexico and headed our way.

Guinea fowl in the barnyard

I just read an interesting article in my Hobby Farms magazine.http://www.hobbyfarms.com/

 They were featuring poultry and ducks, etc. in this issue.  The guineas they mentioned would not get along well with other chickens or smaller chickens in their coops at night, but I would beg to differ on that comment.

All my chickens and guineas arrived together as a few days old from Ideal Poultry Farms.  I did not lose a single one in transit and they all got along and were together from day one.  Maybe this can make a difference.  I have not added any new ones, except two that hatched out by their moms last June and are 2 gorgeous roosters.  They were “brothers” and get along great and all roost in the same coop at night, guineas, roosters, and chickens.  We have two other coops that a few hang out in, but the rest, all 12 of them, like to be in this one at night.

I have had more losses with the guineas from predators; mainly I think because they are not the “sharpest tack in the drawer”.  They forget they can fly “over” the 4 foot tall  fence if they get stuck on the other side and want to go where the others are.  They forget they have a huge barn to go inside of if they get locked out of the coop at night and it is raining.  They forget that predators will find them roosting asleep on the ground outside the coop when it is pitch black outside.  But I would miss them if they all left, and I will replace them when I need to rebuild that flock.  They can be loud at strange things, so close neighbors probably would not appreciate that.  We don’t have anyone close enough to hear them,  except us and I know something is wrong when they sound off and I investigate.

The alpacas have no tick or insect problems.  The pearl guinea is the prettiest and I like the lavenders too.  I would definitely want guineas again.

Skunks as poultry predators

We will see a skunk occasionally waddling across a pasture hurrying to get across before it is seen or snatched by something, and we know they take shelter in the culvert pipe when it is dry, but we have not ever had one lodging in the barn until recently.

When we had poultry losses last summer (because in the heat of the summer evening I decided not to close up the little chicken door in the coop),  our losses either a) disappeared with no sign of a struggle, or b)  feathers strewn showing signs of a struggle in the coop and a headless body laying inside.  Someone visiting us said the skunks will decapitate to suck the blood of the poultry victim. In these cases, there was never any blood anywhere, amazingly.  So maybe that is true. Even though I did not close the little coop door, I did take off the ramp that hooks onto the lip of the doorway thinking that nothing could climb up that high to get in, but I was wrong about that.

Our skunk visitor in the barn found some leftover lengths of guttering from when the barn was built to hide in. We had just stashed it out of the way.  Once I got the skunk scared and running out of the barn I was able to prop the gutter on end to remove that hiding place.    We are careful not to have animal food exposed (we keep food in their bags and stored in old empty  leaky water troughs not good for water anymore, that so far nothing has gotten access to).  And I had thought all hiding places were eliminated, and now they are for sure.

While the skunk was in the barn it feasted on rabbit; We found a couple of mostly clean leg bones inside the gutter nest.  I don’t care to know what happened to the rest. 

So if you have a skunk problem, eliminate any access to any animal food and water if you can, including your outdoor dogs and cats.  We also  keep the chicken’s food and water closed up with the chickens at night. The alpacas food bins are mounted high up on the chain link fence in the barn, and the water is in a tall container. Here is a very helpful link if you have predator problems.

http://co.el-dorado.ca.us/ag/wildlife/skunks.html

What sun? What solar?

So, I read back through some of my chicken stuff I previously posted and I must look into that solar waterer I mentioned.  This is the second winter with the chickens and this winter it is mighty cold out there for Texas.  I really like that solar waterer, but what if the sun just isn’t shining?  That is one drawback for solar but there are really no alternatives short of hooking up electrical cords which I just will not do for safety reasons, mine and the animals.

The  chickens do have a backup plan and that is the alpaca’s five gallon buckets I have their water in.  Standing on the ground, the chickens can reach the uppermost bit of water if the bucket is 3/4 full.  Any less than that and they just hop on the bucket edge and dip down.  Works all year round for them.  So really my dilemma is keeping the alpaca’s water unfrozen for everyone to use, which I keep in the barn and are not in the sun, intentionally anyway.  The buckets are positioned near doorways and so if the sun happens to be shining in, then they are in the sun for a short time.

One thought I had  was superheating some rocks and placing them in the buckets. The danger I am reading is that they can dangerously explode when any moisture in them explodes them as it heats.  I don’t know how long they would hold their heat (based on size and mass this science flunky knows) but surely it would be of some use. I am looking into that idea (it’s free anyway). I might try the idea of using the lava rocks that are used in some outdoor grills.  Those kind of rocks can be heated safely, but can they be reheated safely after being in water?  Many questions; looking for answers.

Our record breaking cold weather will be even more so in the next few days as we get more rain (snow, ice?) and dip down into the 20’s in the DAY, and low teens at night. 

However, I must say, even in the cold, I do enjoy going out to the barn around 9 pm and tucking everyone in, filling chicken feeders, closing them in the coops, throwing hay to the alpacas and taking out chunks of ice in the water so they can have a sip as they settle in.  When the air is calm, the air cold and crisp, the sky clear and star- filled, there is nothing better than to be in the barn tending the animals.

Some links to heating water ideas:

 http://www.bird-house-bath.com/heated-bird-baths.html

http://www.omafra.gov.on.ca/english/livestock/horses/facts/info_water.htm

http://www.wvu.edu/~agexten/pubnwsltr/TRIM/10003.pdf

http://cancrete.com/cdn/products-C350.asp

http://www1.agric.gov.ab.ca/$department/deptdocs.nsf/all/agdex5421

http://www.solarpowerfamily.com/solar-power-livestock-water-heater.html

http://www.nelsonmfg.com/a700H_006.htm

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