Farming and weather have always been closely linked, so we were very happy to finally got a decent rain. Slow and long, we recorded 0.69 inches of rain over Sunday into Monday’s dense morning fog and drizzle. The low temperature of 30 degrees made it feel almost balmy, compared to single digit high temperatures. The birds on the farm reacted very differently to Sunday’s all day rain. The day was dark, a little gloomy, cold, and very wet, but the ducks and geese were all excited for the opportunity to forage in some actual mud and wet hay. They were no longer limited to circling the aerator’s bubble circle in the middle of their other wise frozen pond. With their well-oiled, water resistant feathers, they didn’t have care in the whole wet world. They spent hours scouring their 1 acre poultry yard for whatever they can find. They spilled out of the open gates and into the pasture, yard and orchard. Heads down, waddling along, with their bills in the muck and grass, they get startled by the dogs and people as they blunder along, quacking in excitement. They look and sound excited and happy, celebrating their good luck in having a rain day.
By contrast, the turkeys and chickens could hardly be more miserable. The chickens huddle in drier doorways or under some covered area, doing as little as possible and trying to dodge raindrops. Turkeys will stand under a tree or next to a building on 1 leg, hunched over, with their heads buried under a wing. These birds don’t have water resistant feathers and that is obvious. Looking soaked, ragged and pathetic, the turkey hens seem the most troubled by the wetness all around. The chickens spend the winter nights in their small houses, between 30-50 hens per house, perched and waiting for morning. The dozen turkeys all roost in their favorite trees above the chicken houses and on the same preferred branches, no matter the weather. Last night it was still raining and windy when darkness fell. The turkeys looked miserable setting 10 to 20 feet up in the leafless hedge trees. But when I went out in the fog of early Monday morning, the turkeys were already coming down off their roost as usual. The turkey hens were walking around the poultry yard all fluffed up, looking very clean and very dry. The equally refreshed looking chickens raced out their doors, eager to make up for yesterday’s limited grazing. Amazing overnight transformations.
But farming around here does benefit from a “good” winter- long cold periods with some moisture, especially snow cover on the frozen ground. This gives the soil a good chance to absorb and hold its water better, even in small amounts from a light snow or rain. This tends to reduce pest populations for the following Spring and Summer, starting from the microbial to the insects to the rodents and also to the weeds. So a long cold winter can be a farmer’s great friend- and a good time for a little vacation. It’s a bit of a challenge to have even a single night off the farm. We can often combine some work and some vacation in 1 short trip. This week we have a trip up to St. Joe’s for a couple days and a night. We find that the Great Plains Grower’s Conference (www.greatplainsgrowersconference.org) is an excellent way for us to get off the farm for a little while, visit with other growers we know, spend time at a very good Farm Trade show, and also get some “community service” work done. Katie will be speaking on an afternoon panel discussion there on Saturday, addressing the Marketing of Organic Produce. So if you have an interest in such things, check out this week’s conference. Hope to see you there!