A 10 Day Break (so far)

Twiggy has finally taken a break from laying. It’s been ten days since she’s laid an egg.


Although there have not been visible signs of her molting – no piles of white feathers on the ground – somehow, her tail is back to looking good. Remarkable.

Actually, everyone is taking a break. I’m not surprised. The hens are older. It’s winter. Laying usually starts up again in February, and I’ll be curious if Twiggy leads the group into the nesting boxes or if she remains on an extended vacation.

A Browse Walk With My Horse

There’s nothing interesting under the snow in Tonka’s paddock. It’s packed dirt.



A horse’s digestive system is designed to have a constant influx of small amounts of forage, and ideally that would be consumed while walking – about fourteen miles daily! Obviously, this isn’t possible for our horses. With animal care there are always compromises. A horse Tonka’s size eats about five flakes of hay a day. Where Tonka is boarded, that’s divided into four feedings, and the hay is put into special nets that slows consumption. That helps, but there are stretches of time when the hay is finished and there’s nothing to do. Even eating the hay probably gets boring. Horses don’t eat only grass. They also like bits of leaves from bushes and trees, and weeds like dandelions. There aren’t any of those interesting things to find and taste in the paddock.

The winter can be boring in other ways, too. Under that snow there is ice. Tonka has small cleats on his shoes to keep him from slipping, but it’s still too dangerous to ride outside.



Horses have to move (if they don’t their joint, circulatory and gut health are all aversely impacted) and so we move in the indoor. I ride daily, and I even keep track of how far we go with an app on my iPhone so as to make sure that he gets enough exercise. Most days we go around this small indoor up to 4 miles. I also take lessons weekly, so we’re doing interesting work, not simply going around in circles. When it’s too cold to ride (my tolerance for getting in the saddle stops at 18º F) I hand walk and lunge my horse.

Kim lesson  1/18/16


Part of the reason that I have such a willing and happy horse is that we spend companionable time together. In the summer I hand-graze Tonka for at least a half-hour daily. We hang out while he contentedly bites and chews, and bites and chews. We both find this very peaceful. I ride daily in the summer, too, but we go on long trail rides at least weekly, have a choice of outside or indoor rings for schooling work, and always end the session with a stroll in the woods back of the barn.

So, Tonka and I are going a bit stir-crazy. That’s why I’ve been taking him on browsing walks.

The snow isn’t very deep this year, and back in the woods there are tufts of long grasses.

horse walk


A few bites and Tonk looks up to see what else he can find. He meanders over.

what's next


Pine needles on a young sapling are delicious.



The snow has melted just enough that dormant grass is at the edges of the barnyard. We spend some time there.



As with so many things in life, it’s not the quantity of what you consume, but rather it’s the experience, that matters.

Show Off

While I was letting Tonka get a nibble on some grass showing through the snow, I saw The Cat looking for tiny woodland creatures in the leaves. He looked at me. An audience! Cat leapt onto a nearby tree. There he is in the fork of the tree.



The Cat checked again to make sure that I was watching, and scooted up. This, remember, is the same cat who was stuck in a tree for two nights and was the star of a daring rescue by a tree man.

See his paws? He’s on the right-hand trunk.


The Cat went up.

Yes, Cat, I’m still watching.



And up.



Until he reached a branch that swayed dramatically under his weight. He bit it. Cat then headed back down.




Preparing the Coops and Chickens for a Storm

It looks like the big snow storm of January, 2016 is going to hit south of here. That’s fine with us. I do have a bit of experience to share. This is what it looked like out our backdoor last year.



Scooter has heard the weather reports and he’s not taking any chances. He’s already hunkered down. His strategy is to find the brightest patch of sun. Unfortunately, we can’t all adopt his storm plan. Some of us have responsibilities.



You might think about packing your hens up and bringing them into the house.



Don’t. They’ll do just fine, as long as you provide them with a few essentials. I hope that your coop already has windows, good ventilation and enough floor space for each hen – at least 4 square feet minimum per bird. (For more about coop design criteria, read this FAQ.) If not, do the best you can, shovel out an area outside for them as soon as the storm clears, and plan on expanding the coop in the spring!

Whatever your coop is like, give it a thorough cleaning before the snow flies. This will reduce moisture in the air (which leads to respiratory disease) and will make it much healthier for the hens while stuck indoors. Fill the waterer and the feeder. The last thing to do before tucking them in before the storm is to give them something that will keep them busy.

Years ago I posted this photo – hang a cabbage for a rousing game of cabbage tetherball. This idea has made it’s way around the internet. I’m proud to say that I started the trend of indoor athletics for hens!



I was also an early proponent of feeding pumpkins to chickens. Any of the hard winter squash work just as well. Just in case the weather report is wrong and the storm swings up this way, I bought two spaghetti squash – it’s always good to be prepared.



I also like to put treats into suet feeders. Not suet! Too fatty. Today I put apple halves in the hanging feeder in the Big Barn.


Once you’ve set your hens up in a clean coop with water, feed and something fun to do, you can hole up in your house, get the candles and board games out, just in case, and ride out the storm without having to worry about your hens.

Stay safe, everyone!


BTW- you can purchase cards with that wonderful image of the boy and his chickens here.

Winter Coats

The rabbit is reveling in this cold weather. She’s oh so ready for the impending snow storm. Her fur coat is all she needs.



The goats have an undercoat of thick fur, and then longer hairs on top, which make for toasty warm jackets. Add the fact that their digestive systems are like hot composters – generating warmth from the inside out – and they couldn’t care less about the cold weather (although they do miss having browse and grass!)

Pip talking


As long as the chickens have dry, clean bedding, (I use Koop Clean) and plenty of indoor space with windows for sunshine, they couldn’t care less.



The dogs don’t worry about the cold. Scooter knows how to make use of laps and blankets.



What you might find surprising is that the one animal that I worry about in the cold is my horse. Some horses grow heavy winter coats. Here’s Cider. Even his face and ears are furry! Most days, he gets turned out in the paddock without any additional protection. When the wind is whipping around, and the temperature truly frigid, like it was yesterday, he wears a light sheet.



But other horses need more. Lano grew as thick a coat as Cider. So thick that when he is ridden, he sweats and gets wet, and it takes ages for him to dry, which is a health risk. So, he had some of his fur clipped off (see along the bottom of his neck?) and he wears a heavy blanket outside. See his mane flying in the wind? His ears were back because trees were rattling and spooking him – however, not so much that Lano was going to stop eating! (To see Lano more relaxed, take a look at this video of him snoring.)



Some horses simply don’t grow a dense winter coat. Tonka is one of them. It is thicker than his sleek summer coat, but not by much. Maybe it’s because he grew up in Texas. But he’s been up north now for four years, and he still gets cold. I’ve ended up buying him more and better winter clothes than I have for myself!

horse winter blanket


His paddock-mate Maggie, also has a naturally thin winter coat. Yesterday, she had on two blankets.



It’s a good thing that horses don’t worry if their butts look big.

laughing horse