When I designed parking lots in Alaska, I was required to include a proportionate reserve area for snow storage. Think about plowing that lot every day in the winter and having to find an out-of-the-way area to shove all that snow into. It’s not going to melt until spring, you know?
I had an overnight deposit of snow everywhere last week. The sheep thought it was hilarious and they danced and celebrated until the last flake melted. The back yard became compact snow and ice because, well, do you know what a “sheep’s foot roller” is? It’s a soil compaction device designed to stomp the devil out of soil, just as if you had been running sheep on the ground for a couple months. Turns topsoil into concrete. They smashed a foot of snow into a nightmarish ice rink. They started right in on the front yard, once I finally got the gates open.
I’m a California girl and learned about ice management the hard way. A year after I moved here, I bought a tiny house with a gigantic yard, built an aviary, and got some ducks. Actually, I even did that wrong, because the ducks came first, causing a panicky construction project when the ducks raced for the gate every time I set food and water in their pen. I knew it would snow and freeze in winter here, I’m smarter than I look. The learning curve for providing liquid drinking water, supporting snow load on the little roof, and learning how to open a frozen gate latch was a surprise. Thirty-five years and four aviaries later I can clean a dirty cat food bowl with snow and a stick but I can still get skunked by an ice pile. One that I very likely placed there myself.
I was talking about gates. When I lived up in the foothills of the Cascades, it snowed at the drop of a hat, and always froze solid after. I quickly learned to fashion a water jug harness out of a couple of bungee cords so I could carry four steaming gallons of water down to the ducks and hens, precious kitchen scraps and clean bowls in my hands. Here in the suburbs that seems a bit extreme, so I manage two jugs and kitchen scraps, bowls will get a snow scour. If the gate is frozen shut, jug number one douses the threshold but the gate doesn’t budge at first. Half of jug number two thaws the latch, the other half melts the remaining ice at the threshold. I step across my new mini-lake and distribute the kitchen scraps but I have no water left. I have to go back inside for two more gallons. What a plan.
I have learned a few things about ice over the years. The big lesson was how brittle plastic gets in cold weather. Taking a sledge hammer to a frozen wading pool is going to break the pool along with the ice. Wading pools aren’t available until late spring, so there goes your little duck pool. I can usually manage to hammer out a small hole in the middle without killing the pool, and the ducks get in there and muddle it open. They are remarkably resourceful.
How about the drinking water? I broke dozens of small waterers until I bought duplicates of everything. Now I haul the frozen waterers into the nearest bathtub where they thaw overnight. Yesterday’s thawed waterers go back out and get filled with warm water from the jugs. It’s a memory test: do I remember to retrieve them before I have my boots on to go outside?
The water jugs are plastic gallon water or milk containers, and I save those all summer so I have plenty to
destroy use in winter. They do get beat up and the lids get lost in the mud. I also have assorted metal and plastic bowls that I take in to thaw the same way. When I bring them back outdoors, I’ve learned to stack them plastic/metal/plastic/metal so they don’t freeze together into a useless mass. The plastic ones crack but water in the metal bowls freezes up as you watch it, so I’ve never decided which are the worst. The plastic ones look prettier stacked up, if you want to create a kiddy toy theme park look for your barn. Mine clash with the Chinese Lunar New Year lanterns I leave up all year.
One of the more subtle lessons ice has taught me is Proper Placement. You can’t pull a thick sheet of ice off a bowl and toss it willy-nilly. Well, you can, but if it freezes solid in the gate swing area, you’re toast. You don’t want it freezing to the ground where you walk, where you stand to work, or even where the ducks walk, either. Re-frozen ice gets razor sharp edges as it sublimates, and a pile of it can be treacherous for the poultry. If you want the ice to go away, toss it where sun has a chance to hit it, or that pile of ice will be there a week after the snow is gone. There are more dangerous places to toss ice than innocuous ones and I still mess it up sometimes.
How about that new mini-lake I created by the gate when I melted the latch? It’s going to freeze up overnight, and water expands when it freezes. Maybe that’s why we say “freeze up” because that new mini-lake is going to rise up in a hideous dirty gate-blocking confection unless I bail that water out of there. By now there’s some ice floating in there, so I get that out with my cute little kiddy garden rake. I expose the cracked icy ground beneath the lake and I break another kiddy rake trying to crack it out of there. No problem, I always buy all they have at the feed store in spring. The broken handles make nice bird perches and the rake part makes a nice tool rack. For now, I grab another rake and move my cracked dirty ice away from the gate. There’s more to ice management than this, but you’ve got the idea.