Quack-Quack! Honk! Winterize Me!

Last winter for the Inland Northwest was something else. News reports announced that record snowfall paralyzed Spokane. Records have been kept since 1881 and last year there was 17 inches of snowfall within a twenty-four hour period. The question is will it happen again? One thing is for certain, it wasn't this cold this early last year. It's barely October and there's ice on the ground, the duck pool is frozen over each morning, and Augie March -- King of Doodles can see his own breath. So how do we prepare for what is to come, however cold it may become?

Weatherproofing the duck coop took place today. I started by removing the old straw from the coop and replacing it with deep, new straw. Most of this will not need much changing for a while, except in places where it becomes wet, like around the water source. Musty straw and feed is a danger to waterfowl due to a fungus called Aspergillis. Throughout the winter wet straw will need to be cleared out. The duck coop used to be the chicken coop. The perch and nesting boxes have been removed as the ducks and Lucy Goose have no use for them. All insulation has been covered with plyboard.

It took one large bale of straw to furnish the entire coop with a layer deep enough to nearly reach the top of my muck boots. Some of this straw was placed in another duck pen at the far end of the duck yard--a place where the Doodles like to gather and hang out throughout the day. I spread the straw everywhere, but did not place much around the watering area. The watering area I changed out from a regular water container to a heated water dispenser. The dispenser is placed on a board stabilized atop two cinder blocks and the cord runs up the side of the coop (covered by a piece of baseboard) and along the ceiling to a hole that leads outside to a power strip that's affixed beneath the eves of the coop. The power strip can be turned off or on from the outside and all of the fixtures can be plugged or unplugged as well. (It is possible I will have to place protective wire or another board in front of the remaining piece of cord.) In addition, the coop has two heat lamps equipped with infrared bulbs (night time bulbs) which I have protected with chicken wire so that the goose with her large wingspan does not knock the lamps down, which could cause a fire.

The coop is ventilated in several places. Usually it is beneficial to ventilate at the north and south ends. Augie's coop is ventilated in the north west corner, along the south west wall, and on the southern wall. Each night the door is blocked with a large board with a cinder block placed in front of it. Ducks and geese are considered cold hardy and are supposed to be much more tolerant of the cold than chickens who often suffer from frost burn which can claim their toes and combs. I have seen geese standing amidst a blizzard, their heads tucked beneath their wing, standing on one foot. Still, I'm not taking any chances. I always consider myself ignorant because I do not know the options these birds would have if they had more choices, so I try to create the best environment I can--better than what they would have if they were wild. Too often I think people make the mistake of leaving their pet waterfowl caged in a garage on the coldest nights. It is a sad affair for the family to discover their beloved pet frozen to death in the morning.

It is inevitable that the duck yard/aviary will be snowed in. I keep a shovel handy in order to remove the snow as it accumulates. Since the entire aviary is covered in chicken wire, this must also be shaken of snow throughout the winter so it does not collapse. This is the duck's first winter, so I don't know how much they will come out, but I figure they will be out every day, unlike the chickens. The chickens hardly left the coop for weeks last winter, even though I shoveled a path in the snow. The aviary contains several other shelters, including a lean-to of driftwood in which there is an old tire stuffed with straw, a stall shed with sheet metal roof where their main feeder is located, and an extra large trunk, the top replaced with a door on hinges that can be lifted up if need be. This trunk is a favorite shelter. I often find the ducks snuggled up to each other within, or come across bowl-shaped nests the Lucy Goose has made.

Augie March, Lucy, and the Doodles are ready for a deep freeze. After fixing up their coop for the winter, I spent some time watching them play around the old trunk shed. Unfortunately, Beetle has broken one of her little toes (inside toe/left foot) and she's limping. I picked her up and examined her foot. The toe is swollen. If she gets worse I will bring her inside. Keep her immobile until it heals. I figure it is a lot like us humans--we break a toe and have to wait for it to heal.

Olga stops to eat at the main outdoor feeder which sits beneath the shelter of a sheet metal roof shed.

Augie stands proudly in front of the trunk shelter where the Doodles have settled in after I added fresh straw.

Noi flirts with the drakes (you can see her in the background bowing her head) as they chatter at me.
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