We’ve just experienced a little vacation of sorts in the middle of winter.
Here in New Hampshire, for the last few days, our temperatures were in the high 60’s and 70’s, a vast difference (and improvement) from the freezing weather we’d had before and now seem to be heading back into.
And while we all shucked our coats, smiled, turned our faces to the sun, and walked around in tee-shirts. Plants and animals did not do as well.
Our dog Dalai, who has grown a substantial thick winter coat lay around the house panting, not wishing to exert herself more than she needed to. She sought shade and coolness on our tile floors.
In the backyard, I saw the tops of early spring flowers trying to catch what they must have imagined was the arrival of the spring sun. Nope, they’re in for a surprise.
That heat spell fooled us all.
This morning, the temps have dropped back down to February standards and the slush on the driveways and roads has refrozen. I’m lucky, all I have to do it put a sweater and my wool socks back on.
Dalai is up and about again (although I anticipate a large shed during this week as a result of the warmth.)
The plants that took a chance to peek out will most likely freeze and die. Oh sure, there will be others but there won’t be as many when spring truly comes.
And our chickens, who live outside in a coop are at risk for increased stress on their bodies. Chickens do not need heat in the winter as they have a way to warm themselves (They fluff up their feathers and trap warm air against their skin.) But when temperatures fluctuate, they can have a rough time.
Granted a few warm days is most likely not going to kill them, but when the temps go back down to freezing, they are at increased risk of frostbitten toes (they’ve just spent a few days walking around in mud that is now caked on their feet) and general ill health.
It’s along the same lines of your mother warning you to wear a coat or you’ll catch your death of a cold. It’s not so much that there are cold viruses out there that will attack if you don’t have a coat on, but that *if* you go into the cold *and* stress unnecessarily your body, it lowers your immune system and allows you to be vulnerable to invasion and infection.
This is now the second warmest winter on record, 1 data point is interesting, two is a line and 3 indicate a trend. It’s too early to see if this will happen again next year, but it doesn’t matter, if you have plants and animals you need to be prepared.
So what can we do?
For animals with winter coats, make sure they have cool spots to go to. Be sure to give them plenty of water to replace that which is lost while panting.
For plants, there’s not much you can do, except protect your plants from freezing (cover them) or maybe transplant them in the true spring to areas that have shade or are cooler. It might help, but then again, it might now. Early warm spells like this are notorious for decimating vegetation. Also consider planting your own wildflowers from seed in the spring to make up for any shortfall (the bees will thank you.)
And as for your chickens, check their feet and feathers and knock of any mud. Younger chickens shouldn’t be affected too much by the fluctuating weather, but keep an eye on your older flock members. Overly-bred chickens are notorious for having heart conditions (which is why when a flock is attacked by a predator, it’s not unusual to have chickens who weren’t attacked but who were frightened (shocked) die the next day from heart attacks.) If the stress is great enough, the flock will be affected.
Finally, just like you would if you were sick, be sure to give your chickens some highly nutritious food – a block of calorie dense suet, a seed block filled with plant oils, and plenty of fresh water. And when the freezing winds return, be sure to give them hope by whispering in their little chicken ears that “true spring will return, just hang tight for a bit longer.”
Wendy Thomas writes about the lessons learned while raising children and chickens in New Hampshire. Contact her at Wendy@SimpleThrift.com
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