Winter has arrived in Maryland and we are all transitioning now to cold days and colder nights. The chickens are handling it well, likely better than the humans I hear complaining about the cold only a few days into the true start of the season.
Temperatures didn’t climb above freezing most of the week. The driving winds made it feel even more frigid to those of us just below the Mason Dixon line where frozen precipitation still sends us into a tizzy. Last night brought the first winter storm. We woke to the sound of ice pellets hitting windows and a sheet of ice covering all surfaces this morning.
I carefully maneuvered down the backyard slope to the chicken coop at sunrise to open the door and let the girls see for themselves what was causing the rat-tat-tatting. They raced out eagerly as always and then determined that half of their run had an icy surface that would be difficult to navigate. They stayed outside though, enjoying the covered area of their run, once again making me appreciate the decision to cover a portion it.
Surprisingly, even on the day when we experienced 40 mph winds and temps in the low teens, the girls were outside. They were wise enough to seek refuge in the coop every so often, but their preference is clearly to be outside, even if it’s raining or sleeting since they have some protection from the roof.
I’ve spoiled them with warm oatmeal, extra mealworms, hulled sunflower seeds, even cooked cabbage this week to help keep them warm. I like to give them scratch in the late afternoons after I let them out to free range a bit because it fills them for a cold night ahead. I mix millet, cracked corn and lots of hulled sunflower seeds and keep it in a large covered container, the location of which is well known by the girls and any movement in that direction solicits their utmost attention.
With the added layer of ice this morning, I decided that an extra special treat was in order. I gave them a suet cake made of hulled sunflower seeds and mealworms. They raced over to see the offering as soon as I hung it this morning and it was immediately deemed worthy of their attention. I thoroughly enjoyed watching them pecking away at the block each time I looked outside from the warmth and comfort of my kitchen.
I haven’t overlooked my other feathered friends in the backyard. My bird feeders were filled yesterday in preparation of the storm and were quite busy with visitors this morning- cardinals, titmice, sparrows, wrens, chickadees and even woodpeckers visiting the suet I left on the platform feeder.
By mid afternoon, the mercury danced around the freezing mark and the dripping sounds of ice beginning to melt greeted me as I went out to check on the girls. I decided to scoop their litter trays which caused quite a stir. One hen after another came inside to see what I was up to and Honey, the Rhode Island Red, my curious girl, hopped up onto the roosting bar for a better look. She came right over to where I worked, beak to face, head tilted to the side and let out a small “bawk.” I told her what I was doing and explained the weather situation.
The coop door was slightly ajar and the girls peeked out through the opening. I told them they were better off inside, but they didn’t believe me so a while later I did let them out. Five of them raced out, slipping a bit but mostly able to navigate through some slush. Three of the girls were more hesitant, gingerly stepping onto the white surface, looking up at me and then following along, two of them opting to fly but finding landing a little more challenging than they were expecting. I didn’t leave them out but a few minutes, only wanting them to understand what this weather meant to them- cold feet! They were easily lured back to the run with a shake of the mealworm bag which I gladly offered in return for their obedience.
It’s been a lovely Saturday here, tucked warmly inside with my family, no real option to travel given the icy roads, forcing us to slow down and enjoy the present, something that can be hard to do at this busy time of year. We savored a delicious pancake, eggs and bacon breakfast, the process of which entailed cracking eggs that came from my flock out back and continues to delight me and quite frankly, astound me a bit. Afterwards, I poured the bacon grease into an old container I filled with birdseed and added a bit of coconut oil. Once it cooled and formed, which took no time at all given how cold it is outside, I popped it out of the form and onto the platform birdfeeder. It is being enjoyed by many feathered diners as I write this.
Nature has provided yet again, not just in the beauty of an icy landscape, but in reminding us to slow down and appreciate what’s before us. It is this about winter that I really relish.
The first fall of snow is not only an event, it is a magical event. You go to bed in one kind of a world and wake up in another quite different, and if this is not enchantment then where is it to be found?
– J.B. Priestley