In the Barn In Winter

Sharon December 7th, 2008

We’re having our first serious blast of winter (I don’t count the snowstorm at the end of October - that was a preview) here - bitter cold, snow, winds.  It is the kind of weather that makes you want to be indoors drinking cocoa in front of the fire. So why am I so drawn to the barn, when I could be inside?

I think it is because the barn in winter is one of the loveliest imaginable places.  The animals huddle together as well on the coldest days, and they are delighted to see us as we come and bring treats, replace frozen water with fresh and make sure all is well .  During the warm months, the animals are often busy doing their things - they are hunting bugs and grazing, and while they stop a moment and interact with us, they, like us, are attempting to get the most out of the time they have on those lush, sunny days.  And then suddenly winter comes, and the animals have time and so do we.  Shut up inside (not always, but on the coldest and stormiest days), all of us, we have a shared sense of endurance and the knowledge that friendliness passes the time and warms us up.

Thus, the angora bunnies come hopping up to be held.  They are as soft as anything you can imagine, and surprisingly small - their halos of fluff make them look far bigger than they are.  In summer, I pick them up, and they tolerate my strokings, but are clearly thinking of the green grass underneath their bunny tractor.  Today, they nuzzle against my jacket and nibble slices of pear from my fingers.

The chickens make soft winter noises as they roost around the barn.  They call softly to one another, and allow me to stroke their feathery heads.  There are only a few eggs since it is the darkest season, and hens lay by light, but what there are must be collected regularly, lest they freeze, and the cochin must have her eggs taken away, for we want no hatches in this bitter season.  She pecks at me, but gently, displeased but no where near as protective as she will be in the springtime, the right season for raising babies. I bring the scraps from the house early, since it is too cold for them to be out hunting for bugs.  The duck who thinks he is a chicken, and the two hens who reside with the goats will even come out for cabbage leaves and plate scrapings.

The goats, of course, think they are people.  Their preference would be to spend these days in the house with us, alternating between sitting on our laps and climbing on the furniture.  Since we are so cruel as to deny them our company there, they are thrilled by it when we come out to milk or bring them a handful of sunflower seeds or a slice of apple.  They eat hay from my hands, and rest their bodies against mine, warming me and themselves.  At milking time they bounce and leap, shaking out the energy that they can’t burn in the pasture on this icy, snowy, frigid day. 

Zucchini, our barn/house cat has taken a break from the space behind the cookstove, where he absorbs heat, to come radiate it in the barn and keep an eye out for mice.  He hangs out on a bale of hay, leaping off occasionally to chase a hen, pouncing at her and enjoying the sudden outraged clucks of a chicken confronting a half-hearted predator no larger than herself.  He does them no harm, and the chickens probably know this deep in some small segment of their none-too-large brains, but just as my 5 year old can’t resist rising to the bait when his toddler brother teases him, the chickens never fail to give a satisfying bit of panic to a bored cat.  Angus, who is mostly a house cat but occasionally joins Zucchini in the barn no longer plays this game, since a particularly assertive hen he annoyed suddenly noticed that she was as large as he was, turned around, and began chasing him around the yard this fall.  It took weeks before poor Angus, who is about as fierce as your average marshmallow, could get near a chicken. 

All this life together is surprisingly warm - the barn isn’t very tight - it is better for their health that they have more air circulation and less warmth actually.  But the combination of creatures all lending their body heat - and I mine - mean that the barn is surprisingly pleasant.  Nor does it smell bad, if your nose is accustomed to animal smells.  The shavings and bedding absorb much of the manure smell, and it is earthy, rather than unpleasant, at least to me. 

Sometimes the children come out and nestle down in the new bedding with the goats, or settle on a bale of hay, and wait for a hen to come and sit next to them, so they can feel the feathers under their hands.  Somehow, we fellow creatures, we animals all, human, hen, cat, goat, duck, rabbit - we are all quietly settled, waiting for spring, and in the meantime, taking comfort in fellowship.  And so do I find myself strangely drawn to the quiet - and the noise, the cold and the warmth, all the pleasures and contradictions of the barn in winter.

Sharon

25 Responses to “In the Barn In Winter”

  1. Lovely account of your day.

    I’m thrilled by your offhand mention of your bunny tractor. I kept hens for the first time this year in a largish tractor we assembled mostly from stuff pulled out of dumpsters. I would very much like to keep rabbits for meat next year, and I’d like to use a tractor system for them as well.

    Could you please discuss your bunny tractor and any issues around it? I’ve found fewer guides to bunny tractors and raising rabbits for meat than I have for backyard hens.

    Thanks!

  2. Kelsieon 07 Dec 2008 at 2:53 pm

    Beautiful, and so true. I used to work at a goat dairy, and sometimes, when it was very cold and I was very tired at the end of a long day, I would find a corner of the barn and curl up in they hay with one of the does (they were also so pleased when I joined them!). I also used to have have a horse/work at a stable (someday, I will again..I must…) and some of my favorite days were when it was too cold to ride and I just stayed in the barn with the blanketed horses, singing songs and listening to the wind tear at the roof and doors. I miss my nearly daily doses of “farm therapy.” Thanks for a lovely post.

  3. AnnaMarieon 07 Dec 2008 at 3:04 pm

    I’m so hoping in a few years to make my attached barn a “real” barn with animals and such. Right now it’s storage area and we need to continue our declutter/reduce stuff journey before it’s empty enough for animals. Oh, and change zoning rules *lol*

  4. SimplicityinKansason 07 Dec 2008 at 3:54 pm

    Nice memories of the barn at the farm complete with the smells and sights in vivid description. Thanks for sharing!

  5. rhonda jeanon 07 Dec 2008 at 4:49 pm

    It’s lovely to read about your cold and snowy day and how the animals huddle together in the barn to stay warm. I wrote a similar post today, albeit in our hot and humid weather. Until the advent of blogdom, I always thought barns in the USA and Canada were heated in winter. Naive, yes.

  6. Tracion 07 Dec 2008 at 5:01 pm

    Lovely post Sharon. I love the image of all your animals sharing the winter barn. Our animals are all in different pastures with their respective barns. (cow, chickens & pigs)

    Winter Blessings,
    ~Traci
    Vancouver, WA

  7. Graceon 07 Dec 2008 at 6:13 pm

    Hi Sharon,

    Sounds very cosy.

    My parents grew up in Italy in the 1920s and 30s in rural villages. They used to spend a lot of their time in the barn with animals in winter. It was the warmest place. If you were reasonably wealthy you had animals, and the whole community used to gather in the warm barns to socialise. What did you do if you weren’t wealthy enough to own animals? I once asked my mother. Oh poor things. Those people had to buy wood to keep warm. People once saw things differently.

    Cheers
    Grace

  8. Kathrynon 07 Dec 2008 at 6:41 pm

    I read this out loud to my son and he loved it, and thought the name Zucchini for a cat was so funny. I now have a lovely image of your barn and animals all snuggly waiting for the winter to be over again.

    We live in the tropics in Australia and are coming into our hot summer and the wet season, it will be lovely to reread this when I am too hot and just imagine the cold and snuggliness.

    Thank you for the lovely post

    Kathryn

  9. […] Casaubon’s Book » Blog Archive » In the Barn In Winter We’re having our first serious blast of winter I don’t count the snowstorm at the end of October - that was a preview here - bitter cold, snow, winds. It is the kind of weather that makes you want to be indoors drinking cocoa in front of the fire. So why am I so drawn to the barn, when I could be inside? […]

  10. Steven Earl Salmonyon 07 Dec 2008 at 8:40 pm

    WHAT IS GALILEO DOING TONIGHT?

    I find it irresistible not to at least take a moment to wonder aloud about what Galileo is doing tonight. My hope would be that the great man is resting in peace and that his head is not spinning in his grave. How, now, can Galileo possibly find peace when so many top-rank scientists refuse to speak out clearly, loudly and often regarding whatsoever they believe to be true about the distinctly human-induced, global predicament presented to the family of humanity in our time by certain unbridled “overgrowth” activities of the human species from which global challenges visibly issue now and loom ominously on the far horizon?

    Where are the thousands of scientists who have a responsibility to stand up with those who developed virtual mountains of good scientific research regarding overconsumption, overproduction and overpopulation activities of the human species that are now overspreading and threatening to engulf the Earth.

    Perhaps there is something in the great and everlasting work of many silent scientists that will give Galileo a moment of peace in our time.

    What would the world we inhabit look like if scientists like Galileo adopted a code of silence, speaking only about scientific evidence which was politically convenient, economically expedient, religiously condoned and socially correct?

    Steven Earl Salmony
    AWAREness Campaign on The Human Population,
    established 2001

  11. Phil Plasmaon 07 Dec 2008 at 9:19 pm

    What an absolutely pleasure to read this post. Thanks for sharing. Here in a Montreal subarb we are getting the same weather, but I don’t have a barn or any animals other than one male blue point siamese.

  12. Adamon 07 Dec 2008 at 9:57 pm

    Makes me wish it was snowing here in Washington state :)

  13. Veganon 07 Dec 2008 at 10:03 pm

    So beautiful and timeless … Thanks for sharing.

    Here I am in FL enjoying the the cooler weather and gardening. This is our Spring. Today I planted lots of collards, peppers and tomatoes.

  14. Marnieon 07 Dec 2008 at 10:39 pm

    Sharon - I read this as part of my daughter Safiya’s bedtime stories tonight (she’s four) and she broke into peals of laughter at “as fierce as your average marshmallow”.

    Thanks for the beautiful story.

  15. Greenpaon 08 Dec 2008 at 9:46 am

    My first impulse was to write “you’re so mean!” - because I’m so jealous. : -)

    We do not HAVE a barn- we bought bare land. And boy, do we need one, right now.

    Do please, add a few details about the barn- how big? How old? How much work have you had to do to restore/maintain it?

    I’m working on a post for my blog about building animal facilities; maybe today or tomorrow. So your stories here are outrageously timely and relevant.

    Green with envy! : -)

  16. elleon 08 Dec 2008 at 9:47 am

    Thanks for this. I am in the middle of reading your book and I am sick with worry and emboldened but your words. It is nice to come here and read something like this. Maybe everything can be all right.

    peace to you and yours,

    elle

  17. Sharonon 08 Dec 2008 at 10:30 am

    Kate, our bunny tractor is exactly the same as our chicken tractor - chicken wire and pvc about 5×10. It doesn’t have a bottom, which I’m told that most bunnies need, but our angoras don’t seem to be very serious diggers. If we’re not careful and don’t put it down on level ground, occasionally they escape, but they generally just hop over to us and are immediately recaptured. But if it is put flat, we don’t have a problem. They make great lawn mowers, btw, but we do provide shade in the heat. I think that if we had more adventurous buns (my kids call them the very fierce bun-bun-osauruses, but they, umm…aren’t), we’d need to add a mesh bottom. They love the tractor, btw, and are so much happier than in cages. And they eat a *lot* of grass - they are surprisingly good mowers for their size.

    Greenpa, we actually have two “barns”. The first is up on our high meadow, and it is a wooden stable built (not very well) by a neighbor for the previous owners’ horses. We used it for our chickens for several years, but moved them out because it is at the top of an extremely steep hill, and hauling feed and water up the steep icy hill in winter, umm, sucked. At the moment it is unused, although I think we may adapt it for the goats and move them up the hill, or expand the shared sheep operation and use them for lambing.

    The second is the garage that came with the house - it was built next to the old, not at all tight barn for storing hay. There’s also a falling down chicken house that I swear someday we’ll get fixed, and a corncrib is practically under water, being a low point of our property. We desperately need to build new drainage around the other buildings, or just take them down - obviously, we’d prefer the latter. The garage was a good sized, two bay garage, and we replaced the doors, cleaned it up and had a friend turn it into a barn. Right now it has two poultry sections (one for brooding/isolating laying birds, and a main holding area), a large goat pen, and two milking bays (one of which has the rabbit hutch). Our creatures needed a house more than our car did ;-) - I’m planning on converting one of the milking bays into a kidding area this spring.

    We looked at two properties with much, much better barns. The first was a house that was simply too close to neighbors that had a gorgeous 200 year old, well restored bank barn. I was almost willing to buy the house (which we didn’t love) and put up with the neighbors just for the barn (and it came with a whole family of 6 toed barn cats ;-). The second was an Amish farmstead that I still mourn - Eric flat out refused to move to a place with no electricity or running water. Now he’d be fine with it, but that was then…. The barn was gorgeous, and brand new, as was all the fencing. Still, I like our garage barn a fair bit. It serves our modest purposes. My goal is to build some seperate poultry housing eventually, and probably a buck shelter as well.

    Sharon

  18. goinggreenon 08 Dec 2008 at 10:51 am

    Sharon, this is just beautiful. You make it sound so wonderful when in reality I know that what you are doing takes a lot of work. The beginnings of another book are taking shape here with the narrative that transitioning away from peak oil isn’t so bad after all.

  19. Laurieon 08 Dec 2008 at 11:00 am

    Such a pleasant read this morning. I truly enjoyed it!

  20. peter in Auston 08 Dec 2008 at 2:28 pm

    Great post! Down under where we are, we have just started our summer. Cannot wait for winter and maybe some rain. snow seems an impossible dream …ditto a barn. We have no barn ….yet. Regards.

  21. Veronicaon 08 Dec 2008 at 8:16 pm

    I’m not one to comment much on blog posts, but I must say that I absolutely love this one! I can totally relate. Some of my very favorite times of the year are when its snowing. We don’t have any fully enclosed barns, but we have lots of sheds (some of which we call barns!). When it begins to snow, I layer up my clothes and head out to our hay barn, where the cats congregate. There is no south wall (it used to be a shed for the goats) so I have a pretty good view out and over the river valley. The huge fields of cornstalks aren’t always too pretty to look at, but grazing cattle, pastures, and trees down by the creek are nice, especially with big fat snowflakes drifting down from the sky. I’ll sit down on a bale of hay and my kitty cats rush over to clamber all over me. They usually fight over my lap until they figure out that three of them can fit, and another will hop to my shoulder. Even the wild cats will come curl up near me in the hay to enjoy my company in the peace and serenity of the cold, snowy day.

    I’ll sit out there until my toes grow so cold I can’t hardly take it anymore. Disengaging myself from the cats, I head out to see the horses before going back in. They stand huddled together, either under a shed or outside with their heads down and backs turned towards the blowing snow. They lift their heads to greet me, and part to let me into their circle. I’ll crouch down, and in no time at all fuzzy muzzles will be sniffing their way over my head, down my neck, into my face, and all over the rest of me. The younger ones will gently nip their lips at me, and if I’m wearing my green overalls the older ones will too. They do not get upset when the small flakes of hay on me do not magically multiply into a huge bale. They simply drop their heads again and shift so that I am in the center of their warm, cozy huddle.

  22. Laurie in MNon 09 Dec 2008 at 12:33 am

    Thank you for this. I have a major and strange love for goats (strange as I’ve never actually been around any regularly), so I always enjoy hearing about them.

    I asked for shares in a goat through Heifer International for Christmas this year. I should have made that my ONE request, I suppose, but I chose to make it easy on my relatives and add in some books and CDs. Or a donation to our local food shelf. *grin* We’ll see what happens…

  23. Dave Eriqaton 09 Dec 2008 at 1:57 pm

    What a nice story! I wish I had a barn full of animals.

    Dave
    http://daveeriqat.wordpress.com/

  24. Laurieon 10 Dec 2008 at 2:03 pm

    Nice post! I recently spent some time with my chickens in their backyard coop as the sun set, twilight fell and my birds went to roost one by one. You captured the same feeling that I experienced then. The feeling of being a part of Nature and it’s cycles through our relationship with our animals. The simultaneous richness and simplicity of being that our animals bring to us. And the deep gratitude that many of us feel toward the creatures we share our lives with. This is one of my favorites of your posts so far, and I’ve been a reader for a long time. Thank you.

  25. Kation 10 Dec 2008 at 2:35 pm

    *grin* It sounds like a sweet way to wile away a bit of time on a cold afternoon. I got a big chuckle out of the image of one cat chasing the chickens for a bit of exercise, and the other cat staying well out of THEIR way to avoid being chased himself. *grin* Thanks for sharing that with us, Sharon!

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