It has always seemed to us that rural folk are preoccupied with the weather.
City types may use it as conversation fodder, something to make a throwaway comment about at the school gate or hairdressers as in, “isn’t it great to see the sun” or , “that wind is straight from the *insert geographically appropriate cold place*”, but for those “down on the farm” the weather is elevated to a whole different level. Before the Homestead relocation, the annual school trip to Field Days (generally on the ricketty-ist of buses with at least two students not strong in the art of road travel), would bear this out as we negotiated our townie way around clusters of swanndri clad individuals all earnestly discussing the same thing: the climate. Every one of them appeared to know how much rain, to the millimetre, had fallen on their patch of countryside, how heavy last night’s frost was, the wind speed and direction at any given time, and the exact moment of sun rise and set.
As the Homestead menagerie becomes more diverse, we now find ourselves becoming more than a little fanatical about all things meteorological, particularly with regards to the effect it has on each of the different species we share our space with.
Everyone is well aware of cat’s weather preferences and Melody and Dave, the Homestead felines, are very run of the mill in this regard: if it’s warm you’ll find them asleep in the garden, if it’s cold they’ll be curled up in front of the fire. They don’t really raise any real concern as, if it turns nasty in the midnight hours, they can simply utilise their access-all-areas privilege and change their whereabouts. No worries.
The chickens warrant a little more weather watching. Locked into their coop overnight to safeguard against rogue dogs or the likes, it is imperative their door is opened as close to sunrise as possible to keep the ladies happy (and laying). In the summer months this requires an early but usually climatically pleasant PJ and gumboot clad stumble down the yard, after which you can collapse for another glorious stretch of slumber before the day begins in earnest. In the winter, however, weather apps are checked on the hourly setting to establish the premium coop opening time. Is it possible to miss that band of rain? Just how cold is that frost? Should you opt for waterproof, windproof, or both? Generally, whatever the weather, the ladies are a tad miffed. It’s either too hot, too cold, too wet, too dry, too dark or too light; there’s no winning with them. As they give us eggs, though, we continually strive for the Utopia of chicken contentment.
The Misses Leia and Geraldine are a different kettle of…fish, ahem. The goats couldn’t care less how cold it gets. They are quite happy shunning their shelters to sleep under the stars in the depth of winter, waking up with a fine riming of frost on their backs and their breath misting. As long as there’s hay in the feeder and the promise of an extra dollop of molasses in the feed bowl, they’re happy campers. The first drop of rain, though, and they’re standing bellowing at the gate with their shoulders hunched, coats quivering, radiating reproach. They eye the churned up mud-plug at the paddock gate with the disdain of the first Queen Elizabeth minus Sir Walter’s cloak and, if called to traverse it, totter as if on stilettos. This concern of theirs is well founded as they are prone to footrot, so it is mutually beneficial for us to keep an eye out for prolonged wet spells and meet them head on by ensuring the bedding is deep and clean in the shelters and a couple of barrow loads of topsoil are dumped on the paddock low points.
We’ve already documented the ducks unbridled delight in a decent downpour (Showing Promise). Generally our concern regarding these Homesteaders is more for our yard than the ducks if rain is forecast, and as long as there’s a hole in the ice on the pond all is good in their world. They do tend to flag a bit in the hot weather and their deforesting habits limit the amount of shelter from the sun, but The Farmer’s regrassing efforts seem to be proving successful. We’ve pinned our hopes on these, the Christmas Medlar tree (see Listing into 2014) and an old umbrella to make the summer months more duck friendly.
And then there’s the bees…
There they live in their top bar hive behind the washing line attracting little attention while doing their utmost to keep us all fed and the planet happy. Every once in a while The Bean Counter dons his space suit and checks them all out, ensuring they have a supply of sugar syrup for those days they are confined indoors and removing any unwise comb constructions, and for the rest they just go about their business. Since their arrival, as documented in Abbey Road trip, they haven’t missed a beat. Their colony continues to grow, our garden and those of our neighbours continue to reap the benefits, and we all look forward to harvesting the spoils of their labour in the spring. Sneaky fingers in the byproduct of the The Bean Counter’s comb neatening forays has us feeling rather smug about this particular harvest. Like the cats, they are masters of their own whereabouts and require no direction from us. They don’t hold us responsible for inclement weather and work tirelessly when conditions are favourable, they help rather than hinder the Homestead vegetation, and the impact of the weather, like their squabbles, is dealt with in house.
In fact, the bees would be the ideal Homestead residents but for one thing: they’re not really that interested in us. There’s no real interaction between hive and Homestead.
Which leads us to yet another Homestead rocking epiphany.
We’ve discussed before (see In the Defense of Abnormal) that the success of the Homestead lies in each of us having different strengths and weaknesses. Could it be this extends to our menagerie too? The benefits: pest control, milk, eggs, meat, honey plus the heart warming rush of someone being utterly delighted to see you (chickens included) even if it is prompted by the food bowl in your hand. And in return: a full food bowl, a sheltered haven and a bit of attention.
We reckon it’s worth keeping out an weather eye for.