February 15, 2014

Winter Weather Wonderings

There is a flaw in human nature that tends to assume that the familiarity of one's personal experience is the norm. We subconsciously apply this to all things in life: family, economics, climate, ecology, etc. If something changes, we become alarmed and want to "fix" it. I can't say I've been any different in the past, but living close to the land has taught me that change is the norm and what seems like extremes are part of it.

Sammy was a trooper when it came to chore time.

We were spoiled by two mild winters which made things easy. The garden produced all winter as did pasture and forage areas. This winter has been different. Not that we haven't experienced this kind of weather before, but I confess to having become a bit lazy and assumed this winter would be mild too.

Our three day snow started Tuesday, but the prior week's mild temperatures meant the ground was too warm for the snow to accumulate at first. I was glad because I had to take someone to the airport. It snowed all day long but I don't know how much. The next morning temps dropped and the snow began to stick. By mid-afternoon we'd had two inches but then it turned to freezing rain. That meant a layer of ice on top of the snow.

Freezing rain left a sheet of ice on the kitchen window.

It's the ice that's worrisome. Snow is a problem because folks here don't know how to drive in it, and the county is slow to deal with it. But ice is the real issue. It coats the trees and power lines and the weight of it causes power outages when limbs break and fall on power lines. We did in fact lose electricity for an hour or two, but for us, it was an inconvenience rather than an issue.

This is as far as the chickens would venture, except for the
Speckled Sussex hens, who are a brave, adventurous lot. 

I do practice storm preparedness, but this winter's unusual cold has me evaluating things differently. For example, last summer's never-ending rains and sunless days meant a smaller harvest than usual. This winter's cold has made my fall garden go dormant. In the past I've relied on mulched root crops and my winter garden to help feed my goats. These are slimmer options this year.

Lily. The Nubians refused to step foot in the snow.

On top of that, the recent news of Standlee's switching to GMO alfalfa for it's pellets has left me feeling caught between a rock and a hard place. We've made progress in our goat feed self-sufficiency goal, but we haven't arrived yet. Alternatives for feed supplementation are shrinking. I'm now thinking I need to push through to achieve this goal. I've done my homework, now it's time to stop dilly-dallying and make it a reality.

Extreme weather reminds me how poorly we are set up for our goats. Our six does fit comfortably in our two stall shed, but it makes feeding in inclement weather difficult. In fact, I realize that we have too many goats. With kidding due to start next month, I must decide which goats to cull and which to keep. Self-sufficient goat keeping requires understanding how many goats our land and resources can support.

Still, these experiences have helped me to plan the goat barn we are preparing to build. In fact, all of our experiences help us plan for the future.

The Nigerians and Kiko crosses were willing to venture out to be fed.

One new experience was how the snow blew in and covered things even under cover: the hay mow, the wood pile, the kindling box and Dan's tools in the carport. It reminded me of the Ingalls family in The Long Winter, where Laura describes shaking snow off the covers when she made the bed. It is said that we learn best from experience. I know that is certainly the case for me. Another first was that the freezing rain froze all the gate latches shut.

Back to my opening paragraph. It probably sounded like a dig at politically correct trend thinking, but what I'm trying to get to, is the realization that my preparedness shouldn't simply follow the trends in thinking. I need to consider the extremes. Last summer our temperatures were ten degrees below average; the summer before we had sweltering streaks topping 100. This winter has rivaled the record low for our area. Plus the snow. These are the things I need to be prepared for.

Now we are in a cycle of daytime thaws and nighttime re-freezes. It all makes for difficult travel, so why not stay at home? I'm sure there's nothing out there to miss anyway.

Riley, wondering where all the field mice are.

Winter Weather Wonderings © February 2014 


Farmer Barb said...

The gate latch thing can happen with the fluctuations. We have some five gallon BPA free stackable water containers from an emergency preparedness place. The handle is easy to carry. I load up with three gallons of HOT water and a rubber glove to go with my Frosty the Snow Farmer outfit. My walk down is steep and far. The shape of the bottle and the rigidity of it helps me if I start to fall. I pour some on the latches and use the rubber glove to open. Then I turn the frozen water bucket over and pour about half a gallon over the outside. Plop, the chunk falls out and I am ready to pour the remaining two gallons into the now empty bucket. Sheep will eat snow, so during the day, they could care less.

The vet came recently to give rabies vaccines. He said, "Why did you put your gate on the bottom end and why is your hay barn so far away from the sheep?" Because I had no experience. That's why. We have to have them to learn from them. The blowing precip causes all KINDS of problems. I love to string up tarps at tension so the wind doesn't make a mess out of everything. The grommets are just the size to fit over roofing nails not nailed all the way in but at an angle.

Woolly Bits said...

Riley really looks a bit lost in that picture:) and yes, those extremes can be taxing, we found that out during the two exceptionally hard winters a few years back. what makes me wonder is that apparently very few people take that as a hint that they should plan a bit better for extremes, at least over here. we had a storm a few days back and snow yesterday - and as soon as the power goes or roads freeze over, they have the same problems they had those years back! nobody seems to have invested in alternatives, they all hoped that it won't happen again soon! and they call us the most adaptable species - I think quite a lot of us have lost that adaptability!
I hope you're back to normal again soon!

Renee Nefe said...

I think it is really hard to be truly prepared, especially when faced with the obstacles that you were hit with this year...weather and supplier change. Of course that means a huge chunk of your savings when you aren't ready for it.

You just have to learn from the lessons and move forward.

Wishing that this winter moves along so we can all get back to work.

Donna OShaughnessy said...

Hi Leigh. In some ways we humans are arrogant in our ways of thinking we can "prepare" for winter. As if we really are smarter than mother nature and then we vex ourselves with thoughts of guilt about how we might have done better. Truth is homesteading is hard, we make mistakes what we fix one year will be a challenge for us in the next and as long as neither of us is making a bed with snow on top...I think we are doing OK. Hang in there blog buddy. Spring is really close!

Frank and Fern said...

Good information, Leigh. It has been a very cold winter compared to normal and has affected our Nubian goats. We were planning on another winter where we could get out in shirt sleeves and work on some of our projects. That has not happened.

I am very glad we reduced our goat herd from seven does to four. Even though we have plenty of pasture with standing hay, they cannot be out if the weather is very cold or if the vegetation is covered with snow and ice. Nubians don't do as well in really cold temperatures, which I'm sure you know.

It has been another time to learn and reassess. Thank you for sharing your ideas as you ponder how to change things for better production and results.


Mama Pea said...

I'm not saying it's a good thing, but these days (more so than ever I think) it seems to be human nature that we become lulled into complacency. Just because we've never experienced a particular happening doesn't mean it can't or won't happen. And yet personal experience (rather than, for instance reading about the historical, very natural cycles of nature) is the best teacher.

This is our snowiest, coldest winter in many, many years here in northern Minnesota. If you had asked us last fall if we would be coming up short on our stash of dry, seasoned wood to use for heating, we would have said, "No way!" Well, this year Mother Nature taught us to think otherwise!

Kudos to you and Dan for your sense of self-sufficiency . . . and responsibility!

Kev Alviti said...

l know what you mean about wanting to be prepared. When I build the extension I plan to have it wired so a generator can be plugged into it so power cuts won't have such an effect. Sort term solution to trying to be off grid but it will make us more independent in the end.
I also want to plan better for winter weather. If I can have it so I do more work from home travelling In winter won't be such an effort and I plan to dig in more drains to help with all the water we keep having.
Good post for making me think!

Leigh said...

Barb, good idea for the latches. I bring hot water out to top water buckets anyway!

Good example of learning from experience. When we put in our first gates it never occurred to us that chickens would slip under or through any gaps between gate and ground or gate and post. Later gates have been better fitted!

Bettina, it's curious about folks, isn't it? But hoping of itself doesn't change anything! In the States I've been amazed that folks still continue to build homes in hurricane prone areas. I don't get it!

Renee, very true. Weather is so unpredictable that I understand why some folks want to figure out how to control it. Not sure we'd all be happy with one another's ideals, however. :)

Donna, and if anybody knows, you do. As much as I'd like to make our living from our homestead, I have to admit I'm glad we aren't relying on that now. We'd be sunk. Still, as you say, there are valuable lessons to learn.

Fern, sounds like we were in the same boat. I confess I delayed selling any goats because of my breeding scheme. I have one more year of breeding Nubians to Kikos, then I'm waiting to see how the offspring turn out and how well they help me reach my homestead breed criteria. I have two goats listed on Craigslist, but nobody's buying at present!

Mama Pea, we all need to learn those lessons! Wood supply was another issue, though not because of not planning for the worst. So much to rethink and consider in being well prepared.

Kev, every little bit helps! That's one of my self-sufficiency principles to live by, that something is better than nothing!

Frugal in Derbyshire said...

We are having to rethink how we grow things and how we prepare for lean and difficult times. Without starting a debate about climate change, we have certainly noticed that there is more energy in weather systems, which have challenged the way we have grown things for forty years.
We now grow sweet corn to ripeness each year, which we could not have done previously. I now dry beans and ripen seeds on the plant. Conversely, my winter root crops had to be pulled from the ground before they rotted in the exceptional rain and mud (though the brassicas have stood up well). So, maybe I should consider clamping next year. I guess we have to increase our skills in preserving food and fodder, with as little dependence on electricity as possible. I think I may be rambling here, because my mind is flitting from one interesting and important subject to another! I think I should return when I am more coherent!

Quinn said...

Yes. As usual, I think we have lots in common, Leigh!

Anonymous said...

The one constant is change! In the last 10 days or so we had about 40 hours straight of snow (got over 2'), followed by rain. The ground is too cold to soak it up well, so there is a lot of mud and muck to deal with. But all the pens have at least rudimentary shelters to protect the animals that choose to use them (always amazes me how often they choose to be out in the nastiest weather).

It takes time and paying attention to learn the patterns of your property. Which ways the winds normally come from, which plants grow where, when the frosts come. Even in the easiest of times, homesteading isn't for wimps!

Diane Barnard said...

We are also evaluating changes for next year. We've had 15' of snow since Dec and have seldom been above freezing. Heck, if we climb into the 20s it seems warm. Because of the snow pack and drifting we essentially have no fencing in many places. We will be eliminating all gates on hinges that require shoveling to open and will put 8' livestock panels that can be slid back and forth. I think we need to learn how to use snow fencing.
You're point about complacency hit home. Let's hope I take it to heart and don't fall back on thinking, "surely we won't have another winter like this again for a long time."

Leigh said...

Gill, I have to agree that the weather does indeed seem more severe than I remember when I was a kid. On the other hand, I'm reading Laura Ingalls Wilder's The Long Winter and cannot even imagine a winter as horrendous as that! I reckon what makes it especially challenging is because we must learn new skills and strategies as you mention. Seems I just get one thing down when it's time to figure it out anew!

Quinn, this is a winter that has challenged us all!

Sue, you know, if we hadn't taken time to evaluate our land and weather patterns, we'd be a lot worse off. Now even those are being challenged! I couldn't agree more that homesteading isn't for wimps.

Diane, you've gotten it a lot worse than we have. It seems that unless we experience it, however, it's hard to imagine weather worse than what we know. It's always live and learn, isn't it?

Sam I Am...... said...

I lived rural up North (Iowa) for 22 years) but came down here 10 years ago. I knew how to deal with weather up North and had a great wood burning stove to get us through power outages but here in AR, I got "bad" wood sold to me so when I went to use it during the ice storm of 2009 it didn't heat and I about froze. There were people here that died because they had no alternative heat source, were old, and/or no one could get to them because of all the downed trees, icy roads etc. I was without power for 8 days and I never want to go through that again but I'm sure I will. But I am better prepared than most and better prepared now than I was then. You are right...."what doesn't kill you makes you stronger". As for the GMO stuff...greed and corruption are destroying our earth..what I don't understand is where all these people making money off of this stuff think THEY are going to live when there's no planet left.

Leigh said...

Sam, Dan and I wonder the exact same thing! We call it the bubble syndrome, where folks somehow think they're going to be immune when the whole thing collapses. Of maybe they think science will fix it all before that happens. I continually scratch my head over it.

You bring up a good point about wood. The kind and seasoning makes all the difference! We have some two year aged oak which has been fantastically warm this winter. Also some wood that burned a mighty cold fire. It's a live and learn thing, isn't it?

Anonymous said...

You got quite a bit for your area. Glad you stayed home, that is what we did too. I know how to handle feet of snow, but down here they don't know how to handle inches, and I would rather avoid that chaos.