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? Read the rest of this entry
It’s so cold out that I consciously zip up my jacket and put my gloves on before I open the door to go out. What that means for the Funny Farm is ICE MANAGEMENT. Some of you are already rolling your eyes or nodding your head or both. The rest of you have a big question mark hovering over your head.
I didn’t think I would ever appreciate the arctic engineering course I took, but this week’s weather is decidedly Alaska-ish. Parking lots in Alaska need to include “snow storage” areas, because, as you might imagine, constant snow plowing means huge mountains of snow building up from October through April. Similarly, cracking ice out of Funny Farm water dishes (delicately, so the dish doesn’t break) results in a pile of ice blocks that partially melt together before they re-freeze together overnight. If you have a week’s worth of freezing weather, you soon have a half dozen frozen ice mountains deposited throughout your pens. Do they block a gate? Are they in the main pathway? Are they placed where the sun can melt them or cause them to sublimate, or are they north of an object where they will take a week to go away? Similarly, I check all the gate swing areas and excavate so that the build up of hoar frost doesn’t eventually freeze me out of the aviary.
I think weather is fascinating, and I am proud to say that the Funny Farm now has it’s own weather station! It’s connected to the Weather Underground, so that everyone can check in and see how truly miserable little Dobby is. The mallards show up in huge flocks for the afternoon garden party. It’s eery to see a turtle looking up at you through thick ice. The hummingbirds pouf out down to cover their tiny feet as they hover at the feeders. Funny Farm ducks, geese, even the hens take it pretty well, though I do have heated kennel pads for the cats. I also set out one heat lamp in the barn, but only Dobby seems interested in it.
When I ask him if he wants to go to the front yard, he holds up a paw to let me know it is too cold for his feet today. For a while I was cutting him a bucket full of bamboo, but it is totally frozen now and he won’t eat it. Hay and lettuce will have to suffice.
This is his sixth winter, so he knows the drill. He hangs out in the kitchen during the day, and enrichment becomes important. Unless he is napping. Maybe I’ll finally get that video of him snoring: so far I have filmed several tedious hours of him sleeping. Guests feed him extra corn, he does tricks to get my attention, and he gets a little silly.
I have a special big quilt I spread out for him at night, and special indoor Disney Princess slumber party blankets. I hang an insulated curtain around the bird cages in case Dobby drags a blanket out that sticks the door open all night, weather hovering around 20°f (-6.5°c). If the temperatures fall that low, his heated outdoor pen can’t keep up and his blankets freeze stiff. That’s where I draw the line and bring him in to sleep.
Normally, The Bartender mops Dobby’s kitchen area every night, all the blankets and rugs get washed, the milk bowl gets scrubbed and ready for morning. None of that happens when he is inside 24 hrs a day. If he leaves for a moment, I grab a rug or blanket and wash it, but eventually I give up and everything gets dank and a little bit ripe. It’s always about then that the guests arrive.
The sun doesn’t seem to work any magic at low temperatures, but Prince Dobalob, the sun worshipper, never gives up. Plus, there is another kind of sunshine that always works. Dobby has lots of friends, and one of his visitors sent him this fabulous drawing!
Meanwhile, icy morning chores include shlepping gallon jugs of hot water out to the aviary. Putting the hummingbird feeders back out at dawn and going back to bed. Filling and re-filling the bird feeders and re-attaching squirrel guards to the suet feeders. Hot tub after hot tub for my super-sized semi-aquatic pet. Looking up at the sky and hoping it doesn’t snow on him.
We’re past the solstice, now, so summer sunshine is coming. Isn’t it?
Check out the Stacy’s Funny Farm Weather Station!
This month, we decided to skip Autumn and proceed directly to winter. I winterized Dobby’s swimming pool pump, brought in his rattoon- a small clump of tender sugar cane- and watched the overnight temperatures dive to 22 degrees (f). This allowed me to finally make the determination that Dobby’s heater was dying, and so even though he has a heated kennel pad, I set him up for a slumber party in the kitchen. Who wants to sleep outside under crunchy frozen blankets, anyway? Well, Dobby does. A creature of habit, he feels safer sleeping in his pen with the raccoons and owls locked out. At 5 years old, he has slept inside on enough frigid nights to understand about winter, and he spends *most* of the night indoors. When morning comes, I usually discover that he has gone outdoors.
The kitchen birds had to make some adjustments, too. I put a heater in their space and covered their cages, just in case some fool left the door open on his way out to his pen. They also didn’t get their evening play/fly time, and missed a cage cleaning that generally has to happen at night, when “the help” is penned up.
It was wet and cold at the same time, but the sky was clear and the stars at night were startling. The ducks kept their pond from freezing by swimming all night. It’s warmer to swim in 33 degree water than to sleep on 20 degree frozen ground. In the photo below, you can see Dobby’s frozen swimming pool. The ice is over 3″ thick.
Dobby moved around the back yard during the day to make the most of every ray of sunlight that popped through the tall trees to the South. Here’s Grover, doing the same thing. You might be able to make out Kitty Hawk’s white chest and paws on the ground and Madonna looking for bugsicles.
Dobby has several wading pools in the back yard, but they freeze up faster than his swimming pool, and break when you try to chip out the ice. Once I discovered that new wading pools aren’t available in the winter (D’oh!) I became very respectful of them. (In that photo above, Grover is on a stack of them, stored upside down.) That’s when we put Dobby’s old potty bowl to use.
The little black rubber feed dishes we all use for baby capybara potty bowls are sturdy, bite-resistant, and flexible enough so that you can chip ice out of them without destroying them. Dobby loves to sit in one of these bowls and have me pour warm water over him. With the deep freeze lasting a week, one challenge was stashing the ice chunks out of the way where they don’t refreeze and become a bigger hazard tomorrow.
It is also frustrating to discover the hoarfrost has expanded to block the gates from opening. As the daily temperatures crept above freezing, I chipped, raked, and cleared ice from the gate swing area. Oddly, the water table is so high this year that there is a permanent swamp- that never froze- just inside the gate to the barn. It’s not very conveniently located. It is an upwelling, so digging won’t make it go away. Maybe I need to build a bridge over it.
The work never ends at the Funny Farm. While I am saving up for all new decks and railings, I am patching the rotten places with old license plates, a la Ma and Pa Kettle. Dobby insisted upon helping, but he isn’t very good with a hammer. He also isn’t very good at going away when I need to hammer something.
Meanwhile, the kitchen was getting grubby and sticky and gritty. I really can’t clean with him in there, and then, what’s the point?
Eventually, I made the mistake of briefly leaving the barrier gate open to retrieve a bowl, and Guess Who slipped in the door at that very moment? For those of you who think I am cruel not to let Dobby into my home beyond his special kitchen area, I present the following photo. The puddle of urine he quickly created as he pranced into the kitchen didn’t show up in the photograph, so I created this visual aid. The only reason the puddle stopped here is because I convinced him to turn around and go back. Those of you who own capybaras will be very impressed that I was able to do that without a cattle prod. Dobby is adorable, but if he wants something, his quick temper turns him into a wild animal.
Meanwhile, the temperature hovered around 20-22 degrees every morning.
For a week. Dobby slept inside, the birds got covered, and the kitchen got grittier and stickier.
Dobby always has his breakfast milk indoors in this bowl, but his dinner milk was indoors in this bowl, too.
Corn is really sticky, but it was now an indoor treat, too. Milk and corn together, day after day. I probably need to clean the walls, too.
And then, there are the pouffy moments. I used to think it was so cute to see him all puffed up like a porcupine, but when he’s in the kitchen, it usually means he has created a masterpiece.
Dobby is a lot more mellow than he used to be. In cold weather, he’s resigned to sitting out the day indoors, by his heat vent in the kitchen. Even so, eight days was a long time. In the fall. We aren’t anywhere near official “winter” yet.
Meanwhile, check this out. Cute hay dispenser for bored guinea pigs, right? Well, not if the hole is exactly that size. Big enough for a guinea pig to get his head IN, not big enough to get it OUT. Thank you for that demonstration, Fred. Next time, I’ll cut out bigger holes.
This was the last night of freezing weather, and Dobby was pretty fed up. It’s easy to say it was an Oops! but he is deliberate and extremely accurate with his masterpieces. I am still puzzling over the message here, though.