Over the past few weeks, we’ve noticed a number of tells that winter is on its way: the goats, Marsh and S’More, have grown rounder and hairier, as has Buddy, the miniature donkey; the gourd vines have died back to a leathery brown, seeming to leave their fruit abandoned randomly in the garden and surrounding grass; the turkey vultures have fled as have most of the songbirds; and for the squirrels and raccoons, play has become a thing of the past, replaced with a mad dash scramble to gather in as much food as possible. Cold is coming, and with it, the potential for trouble.
This means that we, as the mammals responsible for The Quarry Farm, have to follow the example of our squirrel and raccoon cousins.
This time of year excites a flurry of activity. The gardens, vegetable and floral, have to be put to bed and blanketed with the compost so generously donated by the chickens and Buddy. The various coops – chicken and duck and goose – have to be thoroughly mucked out and inspected for any little space that might allow raccoon or rat or weasel an entryway and thereby a free meal. It’s time, also, to go through the paddock and tease loose any pads of hay or straw that may have collected. While we’re all about fostering wildlife, we’d rather not provide nesting under the feet of Buddy and the boys. Not to worry, though. Those same tufts of straw are simply going over the fence into the tall grass, a little extra insulation for the voles and field mice.
In the old chicken coop, a building donated to The Quarry Farm by Mary K. Mack over ten years ago, we’ve stacked bales of hay and straw. In sealed buckets are cubes of alfalfa: not our first choice for the goats (alfalfa can contribute to bladder stones), but a good emergency food source, nonetheless.
It’s our understanding that this winter may well resemble the last. That is, warm for the season. Even so, there’s no harm in a little preventive maintenance, in preparing for the worst.
Just ask the squirrels. They’ll tell you.