One of the challenges of living off-grid is caring for animals without the convenience of modern electricity. Stock tank heaters are a thing of the past, making winter a constant battle against frozen stock tanks. Although it may sound easy enough to keep the ice chopped with an ax, it is actually a form of farm ballet, an exercise in perfect control. You must chop with enough force to effectively break the ice, while controlling your exerted energy so as not to render the stock tank incompatible for use due to massive ax-inflicted trauma.
Although spring is welcome after a long winter (no more frozen stock tanks!) it brings with it it's own set of animal burdens. One of the challenges we have had to overcome is adequately nurturing baby chicks without the use of a heat lamp. Chicks have to be kept warm and in the past we simply plugged a heat lamp in, hung it in the brooder and walked away. Easy! Now, life is not that simple. Our solar/generator system will run most things effectively, however, it cannot support anything that that involves resistive heating - meaning no heat lamps!
The last time we got chickies, we waited until late spring/early summer, when the temperatures were warm enough that we didn't need a heat lamp. The problem with that method of chick rearing is that it generally takes nearly a full year before the chickens begin to lay eggs. They spend their summer maturing and by the time they reach the age for egg production, the days get shorter and they just don't get into the habit of laying eggs. That means that you have to suffer through an entire year of spending money on chicken feed with little or nothing to show for it!
We have had abundant eggs for a number of years, but our hens were getting up in years and their egg production had dropped significantly. We went through the winter with no hens cackling in our henhouse, but knew we had to restock before summer arrived - we want fresh eggs! And so, we visited our local feed store, picked out a variety of good layers and brought fluffy little chicks home.
A few of the chicks were really tiny. By the time we got home, three of them were nearly dead. Actually, when we were unloading them, I honestly thought they were dead. Maid Elizabeth picked one up, looked at it and determined that it was only "mostly dead". A few warm breaths as it lay cupped in Elizabeth's hand brought a flitting to the poor little chickies eyelid. The other two were also "mostly dead" but not completely gone, so Maid Elizabeth grabbed a cookie sheet, lined with it an old wash cloth and laid the limp chick bodies on the towel. They didn't move a smidge. She slid the cookie sheet into the oven of the wood cookstove and closed the door. The stove was just bubbling along with a slow fire, so it wasn't super hot - just right for incubating baby chicks. Within an hour the chicks started moving around and by an hour and half we had to remove them from the oven - they were up walking around.
|"Mostly Dead" chickies, warming in the wood cookstove oven|
|Rejuvenated chicks getting a little extra attention|
Our make-shift brooder box has worked incredibly well. The chicks are happy and warm and growing nicely. We fill the lantern every evening and it easily burns for 24 hours with no problems. We keep the brooder box behind the wood cookstove so that we don't need to burn the kerosene lantern particularly high. Our lantern if far enough away from the stove not to be a problem and there is no (uncovered) open flame as we are using a Dietz.
Being off-grid is an exercise in ingenuity. You have to be creative, finding new (old) ways of doing things. We are happy to have a whole flock of off-grid chicks. Now is the time to think of creative ways to go about the business of life. Don't wait until you have no choice - choose to think outside the box today.
This is just another day in the life of "Little Shouse on the Prairie"!