The Hillhouse

The Journey of a Mother and Son

Out Cold January 24, 2013

Well, now I can understand a little better how my poor chickens feel. Somewhere around four this morning my nose woke me up. My nose was cold. The room was cold. The kind of cold that tells me something’s up. I knew that kind of cold. It got me out of bed to inspect the thermostat, which was now dipping below 50. Crap. I’d done the math – I’d allotted two gallons a day, and I’d kept the house at 50 when we were out, and near 60 when we were home – we weren’t due to need fuel oil til middle of next week. I’d planned it all out; a couple of students’ pay plus my next paycheck from Waldorf and I could afford a small delivery. While I’m pissed at myself for once again needing help, instead of wallowing in it I need to learn the lesson. Otherwise it’s a wasted experience. The lesson? Apparently it takes a tad more fuel just to keep the house at those modest temperatures when it’s super cold out. (Note to self: if it’s lower than 20 degrees out, you’re burning another half gallon a day easy. Check.)

I didn’t want to ask my mom for help, but today I did. The state has already given us our $600 ration of fuel assistance for the year (try heating a house on that for eight months!), so until next week I have no options. If it weren’t for the very real risk of a burst pipe I’d tough it out. Year before last Elihu and I went for nearly two weeks without heat. We just hunkered down in my bedroom and camped out with a small electric heater. Wasn’t the worst experience – in fact we ended up having fun, making up games and reading entire books cover to cover. But in that it’s in the single digits outside right now, I can’t afford to wait.

I was a little preoccupied at school this morning as I hadn’t yet heard back from the fuel guy. As soon as I finished my classes I zipped home, where I thankfully found a receipt from him stuck in my door. They fronted me the oil! Wow. Sometimes it’s good to live in a small town where people know who you are. I ran downstairs and restarted the furnace right away.¬† So thanks to my mom, and Charlie and Steve, the oil guys, our house will be comfortable again soon. Warm hearts and fuel oil have saved us from being out in the cold.

Post Script: Now I’m doubly inspired to help out those poor hens. I’ll put up a curtain over the drafty door and get another heat bulb hung before tonight.


Deep Freeze

Tonight is not a very good night to be a hen, here at the Hillhouse Coop. It’s mean cold outside, and although it might look as if our girls had it good… tonight, they just plain don’t. As I get up and look out the window toward the coop, I feel for em. Many aren’t even choosing to roost tonight, as they’re finding more warmth with their bellies against the ground (which itself has to be freezing too!)¬†Alas, one door is full of holes, and now is losing a pane of glass too – by now it lets in as much outside air as a screen. A 250 watt heat bulb has been on non stop for over a month now, but little good it does on a night like tonight. When it’s below zero. When the water freezes less than a half hour after I’ve refilled it. When the birds are covered in tiny ice crystals, and half a dozen gals can’t stop sneezing. (Yeah, chickens sneeze. It means the same thing as when you and I do.)

The structure itself looks impressive; it’s well-built, sturdy, and has been built on a human scale. Painted a nice barn red, it looks a tidy addition to our property. But on a night like this, those things don’t matter so much as they serve to make me feel a good deal of guilt. I had this small structure built so that my many hens might enjoy a comfortable hen house, one with enough room for all, yet cozy enough, well insulated enough to keep in the shared warmth of so many feathered bodies. That was the idea, but I didn’t know enough yet to execute the plan as well as I should. First off, the damn ceiling’s too high. The room is too narrow, and the doors at either end prevent us from making better use of the wall space. Roosting bars are too steeply stacked, meaning that birds are always pooping on the backs of those one rung below. If I’d been thinking less about how I wanted the henhouse to match my garage and more about the comfort of the birds who were actually going to live there, I mighta done it differently. But then again, live and learn. I’ve lived with it, and now I’ve learned what I’d do differently. But for now, it’s so bloody cold we’ll all just have to make it through as best we can. Can’t make any big changes now.

Oh, may God bless and keep my chickens safe and as warm as possible tonight. They have continued to give us eggs when so many other flocks are down. They do so well by us, I only wish I could keep them more comfortable in return. Especially right now, as I’m about to snuggle deep down into my winter bed, which is so many, many degrees warmer then theirs is on this night of the deep freeze.