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Critters In The Cold

Welcome to My Green Vermont - A Blog by Eulalia Benejam Cobb.
By Eulalia Benejam Cobb

I knew by how heavy the sliding door felt this morning as I let the dogs out that it was extra cold. Eight below zero, by our front porch thermometer.

While the water for my tea was heating in the microwave I put on socks, my barn jacket, gloves and a hat over my usual morning chore outfit–my pajamas. I filled a bucket with water and ventured into the attached garage, picking my way over the accumulated chunks of muddy ice that have been falling off the bottom of our car and are waiting for the temperature to, someday, rise above freezing.

As you all know by now, our goat and chicken shed is attached to the garage, so I do not have to trek through the elements to feed my critters. This morning the goats greeted me with loud cries. Was something wrong? Had they starved during the night? Were they cold? Had the coyotes scratched at their door? I checked the hay feeder, which was far from empty. Their heated water bucket was still half full. And in their long, fuzzy winter coats they looked like plump matrons in fur coats. What was all the fuss about?

While they ate their sweet grain, I checked under Virginia Slim\’s tail. Aha! She was in heat–that\’s why she was yelling. \”There\’s nothing I can do about that particular need of yours right now, my dear\” I said to her. \”You\’ll just have to try to think of other things until it\’s over.\”

Next door, the hens were just waking up. The droppings under their roosts have been freezing almost as soon as they emerge during the night, forming Himalayan peaks that are as rock solid as the real thing. Looking at that piled-up manure, I could just see the tomato plants that it will nourish in my 2011 garden (chicken manure needs to age for a year before it is used ). When you\’re doing chores in sub-zero weather, it is important to take the long view of things.

The hens were cheerful enough, even though they would not venture out into the deep snow. I made sure their feeder was full and then threw a handful of sunflower seeds onto their bedding, to give them a sense of purpose.

My fingers were stiff inside the gloves by the time I went back to the house to feed the dogs. As I doled out the kibble and the home-cooked mush I filled their bowls a bit more than usual, thinking that if I had to go out into sub-zero weather every time I went to the bathroom, I would need some extra calories too.

And as I drank my tea I reflected that all over these hills people with red noses and freezing fingers were trudging with buckets of water and pails of grain to keep the critters fed and comfortable, to check that all is in order, and to keep things going, morning chores and evening chores, through another winter.

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