It seems the winter is still hanging on. Overnight several inches of heavy snow blanketed the rugged landscape of the mountain. Wind sent snowflakes dancing sideways into drifts. This was warm snow on the verge of optimal snow fort building—but not quite warm enough to hold together. The flakes piled up and lay over the roofs and vehicles in thick slabs by late morning giving way to a snowy March day.
Yesterday the geese and turkeys had been grazing on little snippets of grass still green under the thick insulating layers of brown dead grass and fallen pine needles. The songbirds who’d twittered happily the week before had tucked silently away in the puckerbrush along the valley behind the old coops. I could see them hopping around with impatience.
This week I’d been rushed to build a new coop, more of a small barn really. It has four stalls and a large rabbit hutch on one end. The first flakes had begun to fall as I’d wrapped up the hutch roof well enough to keep out the weather. Kevin screwed on the last piece of corrugated clear plastic roofing over the coop while I picked up the last rabbits to move home. We’d split up a few months ago, but I came to my senses and moved back home.
In the meantime I’d paired down on my flock. With only one breed each of geese, duck and turkeys it was simpler to separate for breeds during the spring laying season. I’d sold off and butchered many of my chickens too. Now I kept only French Black Copper Marans, Olive Eggers, White Laced Buff Polish and White Ameraucanas. The Marans and Polish were both breeding tiros. The Olive Eggers are only three hens—I fertilize them with the Maran and Ameraucana roosters for forest, aqua, and sage tinted eggs. After a poor hatching season last spring, I ended up with only one mating pair of Ameraucanas. On this most lovely snowy March day, the white birds blend in marvelously.
Rabbits are simple to care for and enjoy attention. Once the snow clears—this storm will last a few days—I’ll begin to build a seperate building for hutches. The are staying in large dog cages for the time being with plenty of hay and sawdust shavings. When I moved them from their old home in Alton to their new home in Bucksport the kits had gotten wet when the mother had overturned a dish. Luckily I was able to stick them in a small box, and put them in an attentive young lady’s lap in the warm truck. The other rabbits were simpler to catch and their cages were soon folded and loaded. With my last two hens under our arms we made one last move. On the way home it began to spit snow, but luckily not enough to stick to the road.
With the water dumping incident in mind, I’m glad I ordered crescent-shaped metal dishes and metal wall-mount feeders for all the rabbits from Circle Supply. Their prices were very reasonable and the shipping was free. Until Monday I’m using the same metal dishes and heavy-bottom glass cups from the thrift store. Now that they are so big, they need more capacity for both feed and water—especially when I’m gone for the day and can’t check them at midday. I’m looking forward to a simpler set-up before Chocolate’s kits are grown enough to wean to their own hutches.
On this snowy March day, I worked outdoors a few hours adding bucket nesting boxes to the outside of each of the four rooms in the little barn. The bucket openings were screwed flat to the outside wall. A hole was cut from the inside for the chickens and ducks to enter. After they were mounted I used mill-felt to line the fronts and to keep the hay in.
For the Australian Spotted Ducks, I built a small hop-up ramp they can use to get into the box and to hide under. They are bantams and like to hide when I come in. By this afternoon the new bucket nesting boxes had been filled with eggs. I suppose that means the hens don’t mind them. Comically, the two Polish stuffed themselves into the smallest nesting box made for the bantam ducks. When I peeked in on them, both of their rumps were stuffed out the opening as if they’d hopped in at the same time and were stuck there. The Polish could care less if it’s a snowy March day. It might be because they can’t see past thier extravagant hairdos.
With a bobcat on the loose since it took several of my animals last fall, a coop upgrade was in order. The big cat is likely hunkered down on such a snowy March day in one of the crevices or little caves offered by the rocky barrens along the powerlines behind the property. Our neighbors have been capturing game cam shots of it eating off a coyote bait on our back property. It has come too close to my livestock for comfort and the warden has given permission to hunt it. I know there is always another predator waiting to fill the niche left after it’s been hunted. This cat bent wire, tortured live birds and took off with seven birds total over a few weeks. I love nature, but have the responsibility to care for my animals. It’s a hard choice and a delicate balance.
For today I’ll package my hatching eggs, sip coffee, update my chick availability dates, and daydream about a garden when this white stuff melts and the songbirds can come out again. I will ponder where to plant the berry bushes and wonder if the ledge will allow for a tuber crop up the hill. In my little rocking chair I’ll look down at the bay and watch the snow fall while I rest up for another project when it clears. It’s the best way I can think to spend a lazy snowy March day up here on the mountain.
By Amanda Pelletier, March 8th, 2018