While weather in the Pacific Northwest has been nowhere near as dramatic as other parts of the world, it has still been a lot colder and drier than we are used to. And that the flora and fauna are used to. Winter, up until recently, has been fairly mild and boring. No major storms – wind, rain or snow – just dank, chilly and grey. We had a few visits from overwintering hummingbirds, a first for us at Seven Trees Farm. The garlic and daffodils started peeking up, and the elderberries and red flowering currants looked ready to leaf out.
Then the Fraser outflow started.
This image from the blog Reading the Washington Landscape pretty well sums up how the topography of the Fraser River valley affects us. We’re located at the red dot under the blue arrow. So now we have steady, howling, frigid, desiccating winds, with daytime temps below freezing, and overnight temps in the low teens. Hopefully this won’t kill off all the plants that were just getting ready for spring, but our biggest concern has been for our chickens. The older birds are more acclimated to harsh weather, and spend a lot of time basking under the heat lamp in their perch/nestbox area. A tank heater keeps the water in the horse trough outside thawed, and their inside waterer is wrapped in heat cable and insulation and sits on a seedling heating mat.
The 25 month-old chicks have been a bit more worry though. The brooder coop they stared out in is fully insulated, with outlets for heat and light. But it’s only 3×5 feet. Normally when chicks are fully-feathered, we start getting them used to the big outdoors by opening the hatch to the covered, screened area underneath. Once they know how to come and go without help (sunset chicken chasing), we move their food and water outside, freeing up lots of floor space. But this time the weather interfered the usual progression and we were forced to keep them inside longer. Needless to say, 25 chicks poop a lot, and when they start practicing jumping and flying, they poop in their food and water. So we took a big chance and moved them out to the main hen house, in a pen about 4×8 feet, in the middle of the 16×16 foot structure. We moved them at bedtime, and they were extremely freaked out. And once they settled down and could feel the temperature change, we started making adjustments. One heat lamp quickly became two; 175 watt bulbs were changed to 250 watt. We made part of the space a dropped ceiling covered in reflective mylar bubble insulation, to trap more heat; moved a draft baffle (2x4ft piece of board) from the outside front of their pen to the middle, near the heat lamps; added a 40 watt clip on lamp over their food and heated waterer so they could see them better. In the photo above, big chickens are to the right, chickie pen is front & center. Out of the picture to the left is another pen that opens to an enclosed run. Right now it’s not being used, but it adds some air space between the colder north side and the babies. Bottom center of the picture you can see the heated waterers. Upper right corner there is just a hint of the LED rope light that serves as a night light. The circuit powering all this is plenty big for the load, but there is definitely room for improvement in the electrical layout. We added an outlet strip, with 6 outlets evenly spaced along a 42″ metal bar. This really helps us deploy lamps and heaters better.
Being stuck indoors has led to a lot of research on constructive changes. Age and injuries are factors we have to consider as well. The BriteTap waterer looks like a solution to those concerns. It can be used with a variety of reservoirs, but was designed for 5 gallon insulated beverage coolers, and we’ll source ours locally rather than buy the combo kit. This will keep water cleaner, cooler in summer and warmer in winter, and the large fill opening will be much easier to deal with than our current waterers. Those involve gravity/vacuum feed for water flow, and the lids can be tough to open. A heated waterer we have has to be filled from the bottom via a small opening, then flipped over quickly and carefully so as not to spill water or pop the top off. Not fun ever, and especially in sub-freezing temperatures, after a long day at work.
To keep the water flowing in really cold weather, we’ll add a submersible bucket de-icer. We have trough heaters, but they pull 1000 watts when they cycle on, and that’s just too much for our long term power bills. A small, thermostatically-controlled 250 watt heater will be just right dropped into each water container. Since it sits at the bottom, it should keep the BriteTap unit thawed as well. We’ll find out… Also up on the planning list is a spiffy new dog house/run with heat, lights, and covered porch. We’re considering adding a Boxer puppy as Stewart’s understudy, and they are not a cold weather breed, so a comfortable outdoor space is crucial.