A few years ago, I wrote about keeping warm in New England when alpine climbing in -40F weather.
Over the weekend at Unity Farm, it was -35F with wind chill and -15F without. While using my ice ax to break up manure in the barn (really), I wore the same gear I use for the White Mountains.
On Saturday night we had to prepare every animal area for what turned out to be the lowest recorded temperatures ever in the Boston area, caused by the polar vortex.
Llama/alpacas - we cleaned their barn stalls right before nightfall and added extra hay on top of their rubber mat floors so that each animal would have a dry, insulated, wind protected shelter. I fed them chopped alfalfa with molasses to given them extra calories and added flavoring to the water in their heated buckets to encourage them to stay hydrated.
Dogs - we put a 1500 watt space heater in the barn in an effort to keep the temperature for the dogs near zero. We created insulated beds for them by wrapping hay in tarps. We gave them extra food before bed.
Chickens/Guinea fowl - we closed the coop at 3:00pm to retain the warmth of the day and ensured the three panel heaters on the roof over their roosts were functioning well. We made them a pot of warm oatmeal and added extra pine shavings to the floor, so everyone would be warm and dry
Geese/ducks - we added extra straw their waterbird house and made them warm oatmeal. The ducks love their warm heated nesting area, but the geese seem to prefer to stay in the outside pen no matter how cold it gets.
Pigs - our real concern was the pigs because they do not like cold. They have panel heaters above their straw beds, but with low wattage heaters, blankets, and straw they are still cold when the temperatures go below zero. We added a 1500 watt space heater to their pig barn, gave them extra food (grain/bananas), and wrapped them in their quilts.
On Sunday morning, I waited until dawn to check on everyone, so they would not be disturbed from their shelters. Everyone made it through the night without a problem.
As I went into the farm refrigerator (35F) to get vegetables for the pigs, I took the opportunity to warm up, because the inside of the refrigerator was 50 degrees warmer than the barnyard!
During the winter we keep water flowing in our duck pond on the farm for the deer, birds, and other local wildlife. To keep the pumps and piping flowing in the negative temps, I did my best to break up ice, use snow as an insulator, and cleaned all the filters. We are the only liquid water for miles around.
In the picture below, you’ll see some of our geese. Hercules (the large french tufted goose in the photo below) began to collect straw from around the barnyard this week. I got the sense that Hercules wanted to nest. Our geese were raised from 3 day old (unsexed) hatchlings so their gender is still unknown to us. I built an 18x36 inch box, pictured below.
A few hours later, I returned to find the goose egg pictured below (yes, it is enormous). We now know that Hercules is female. So far, no eggs from Xena, Gabrielle, or Iolaus. Our guess is that Iolaus is male and all the others are female. When the weather is warmer, we’re happy to let the geese hatch any fertile eggs. At the moment, eggs left outside just explode in the cold.
We had planned to transplant our lettuce sprouts last weekend, but with negative temperatures, even hardy lettuce would struggle. Next weekend, we’ll plant all our transplants and early spring crops in the hoop house. As with everything else at Unity Farm, we’re learning every day. It’s unclear if late February is the right time to plant lettuce in the hoop house. In a few weeks, we’ll know if we were right!
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