It is still winter in Montana and will be at our house for months to come. We have had some serious early thaws recently as we will here every year about this time. Today it had melted enough of the snow away that it was a perfect day to open the chicken run and let the ladies out today for some free-range time.
Though it doesn’t look like much the chickens were out there eating the shoots of new grass that the melted snow provided. My chickens can be an industriousness bunch when it comes to good fresh food after the snow hiding “good eats” and being on commercial chow for a few months.
Let’s hold onto the memory of this day with sunshine and blue skies as we enter a week that is suppose to be full of show again. The snow is happening less frequently and days like this are happening more often. There is hope for spring, no matter how far away.
Working outside the home and commuting daily allows a person to notice when the days get longer and shorter. There is a consistent time piece of our daily routine when we walk out the door, get on the highway, catch the commuter bus or train by which we are able to measure our days. We noticed day and night relative to that constant migration daily to work and home again.
I feel like I have been living in constant darkness lately. Each day I left home in the dark of night with the stars overhead heading to town and came home in the same darkness. If I was going to get some sunshine it had to be during my lunch hour. This first week of January we had vicious cold snap of subzero temperatures. One day we got all the way down to -30 at our house, and that was before we factored in the wind. I was down right miserable in the cold and darkness. Yet by the end of the week, even with the nasty freezing temps, I had found hope. I was driving home as the sun was setting. In Montana twilight lasts forever, so suddenly I was driving home in the last vests of daylight. The days were still cold, but the afternoon light was giving me hope and encouragement. The hint of days getting longer has gave me optimism and hope that no matter how cold the days were yet to come and no matter how long the nights, spring though months away is slowing making its way to my neck of the woods.
Growing up in the Midwest the return of the robin was always a harbinger of spring. Here in southwest Montana a kind of sparrow like bird is always the first to return in the spring is. Following the sparrow like bird a week or so later is the bluebird. Finally there is the the meadowlark who is the last of the migrating birds to return.
I first noticed the sparrow like birds early last week. When hanging my first clothes out I could clearly hear them calling out to one another about the bounty or lack of bounty they were finding here in Montana. They were gathering and flitting about in the pastures around the house. They always seem to be on the move and just far enough away that I never capture them well with a camera.
Mountain bluebird in the snow. Taken by Betty Holling.
Monday I saw my first bluebird. I haven’t seen another one yet, but I am sure more of them will be arriving soon. Once the males have mostly arrived and check out the digs we have on the fence posts, the females won’t be far behind. We have a series of blue bird houses on our fence posts and love to watch them each year.
I looked at my blog to see when I wrote about the bluebird last time and see I saw this fella almost two weeks earlier this year. Last time we had a major snow storm with six inches just after my first bluebird arrived. This year we have woken up to snow already twice this week. It always make me think about hearty and resilient these little guys are. How far they go to return here each spring and how the weather doesn’t stop them. It is how we should all look at the setbacks we have once we get spring fever. March on it will get better.
Either you love clothes on the line or you don’t. The most common reason I have heard for not liking clothes on the line is they are not drier fluffy. On the opposite side of the argument is that no one has managed to actually capture the smell of sunshine and outdoors that you can only get with clothes hung on the line in any of those bottled smells for laundry soap or drier sheets. I fall into the camp that the smell of line-dried clothes trumps everything else.
This week it was finally warm enough to put towels out on the line. We always have a breeze and most the time have some serious wind so even though it wasn’t much above 40 my towels were soon dry. Though the first day of spring is till a couple weeks away and yes there is still snow on the frozen ground, I am not letting that stop me with celebrating a nice day with laundry on the line.
This week there was the hint of spring in the air here in southwestern Montana. We opened the gate on our chicken run and let the hens have a little free range time. They were excited and ready to run free. They are looking for the little bits of green that are starting to show up.
We still have some snow on the ground but they can work their way around it. We pulled out some straw from the coop and spread it around on the ground which is still quite muddy, to help their human caretakers not track so much around and beat what little grass we have down.
The hens thought that we were tossing the straw about to make it easier to find tasty morsels. We had to do a double take and recount the hens, because all the feathers from the molting they did this winter looked like a fox had been in the hen house. Fortunately it was a false alarm.
We are all ready for a little spring weather here. Everyone is tired of being cooped up.
We are having a warm streak here in southwestern Montana. This winter we had an unusual amount of drifting that had to be removed from the road by a front-loader to make it passable. Hence monster piles of snow currently sit alongside the road. This is now all melting. It is causing mud season to arrive early and in full force.
Once you turn off the frontage road, you best have your 4-wheel-drive engaged because you are never going to make it here without. Yesterday the UPS driver arrived with a package and now our driveway is one huge rutted mess. Today the propane delivery man decided to not even enter the drive, but stopped on the road and pulled the hose for yards to the tank behind the garage. Smart man.
We are praying for dry weather, lots of sun and lots of wind so that this soon becomes more than a sink hole of mud.
I am thrilled to report that at least one of our hens is laying eggs again. I found my first egg in the nest box in nearly a month. This year we kept nine hens over the winter. We had failed to cull our flock before cold weather set in so we made do with more than we normally keep in the winter. Initially I thought it would not be so bad as it would mean our egg production though less, with the shorter days, should be acceptable over the winter. Silly me as soon as the cold weather set in all but one of my laying hens went into full molt. Molting along with the shorter days meant that no matter how careful I was with my precious eggs, in January I did end up buying a dozen store eggs.
Yes my coop is sunshine yellow inside. I want my hens to feel sunshine everyday.
For those of you not familiar with chickens, molting is when all their feathers come out, like a dog or cat’s shed. During the molting process chickens do not lay eggs. All their food and energy go into making new feathers rather than eggs. Molting can be a long process of months and my hens did not disappoint. They started in late October and early November, and some of them are still working on replacing their feathers today and look pretty sad.
I have caught two different hens in the nest boxes last week. A couple more look pretty filled out feather wise and their combs are starting to perk back up. The days are getting longer. The chickens are starting to lay again. Spring is in the air in Montana.