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The Big Freeze at Blue Sky Ranchsicle

Posted by Julia Smith on

It's colder than a tin toilet seat on the shady side of an ice berg up here at Blue Sky Ranch! We did a lot of research before choosing where to buy land and Merritt seemed to fit the bill nicely. It was still pretty close to Vancouver but had summers that weren't as hot as it gets further into the interior and winters that had daytime temperatures around freezing and dipped down to around -10 at night. That didn't seem so bad! And -10 in a dry cold feels a lot warmer than a cold, rainy day on the coast. 

Picture perfect winter scene at Blue Sky Ranch

But we're going on to our third week of temperatures pushing -30 at night here and we don't get above -14 during the day. We didn't actually manage to get our construction finished this year so we aren't as well equipped to deal with this as we would have been next year.  A couple days of this would have been interesting but I have to admit that heading into our third week, it's starting to wear on us. It seems to be wearing on everything. Yesterday both the truck and the tractor wouldn't start. We couldn't even get the hood of the tractor open. The day before, the pipes going from the barn to our loft froze. We hadn't planned on insulating the whole barn but we decided to go ahead and do that this week. We're off the grid on solar power so needing a ton of extra electricity to run heat tape along the pipes in the darkest time of the year is really not ideal. We normally only need to run the generator for a few hours every few days but we're running it all night now. We're pounding back the propane too to keep the utility room heated so the water tank doesn't freeze. 

Squidlet just out of bed with bed head & looking for breakfast

The pigs are doing great though. We were really worried about them and put extra shelters out in the forest for them stuffed with lots of straw for insulation. Imagine our surprise when we went out to check on them on the first -27 night and found 2 empty shelters and a big pile of pigs camping under a ponderosa pine. They're doing just fine. We brought the horses in the first couple nights but they were miserable and practically galloped out of the barn in the morning. They seem perfectly happy outside with their thick, wooly coats. They don't even spend most nights in their shelter. Our biggest challenge with the animals is water, of course. Our usual systems are frozen so we are taking big barrels of water out to the pastures, using the axe to break up the ice in the water troughs and refilling with fresh water twice a day. It's a good workout!

Filling the pasture huts with straw

Just in case this wasn't enough of an adventure already, we also have two litters of piglets this week. The sows are in the barn and we have insulated "baby boxes" to put the piglets in but we certainly can't be running heat lamps. But it is far too cold to leave things up to Mother Nature. We have to get the piglets dried off and into the box as soon as they are born or they will certainly die. Thanks to modern technology, piglet watch isn't as bad as it could be. We have a video monitor so we can watch from the comfort of our loft upstairs. Overnight, I set an alarm and hit snooze so I can check the monitor every 9 minutes. Our first sow farrowed on Wednesday. We had hot towels on hand and heated big bricks on the wood stove that we wrapped in towels and used to heat the baby box. So far so good! All 9 piglets are doing just great. We have another litter due on Saturday so I'll be up on baby watch again tonight. Thankfully, this is our last 2 litters until March.

9 perfect piglets at the breakfast bar

In spite of the cold, and maybe at least in part because of it, it is stunningly beautiful up here. At night the moon is so bright it fills the fields with moonlight punctuated by long tree shadows. The stars sparkle clear & bright and even put on a show from time to time. The sunrise is beautiful lighting up the hills with a pink glow before turning on the high beams. A little breeze blows snow off the pine boughs and the sun turns the snow flakes into sparkling fairy dust. Yeah, it's a little cold but we'll get through it and be much more prepared for next winter.... oh yeah... it isn't even winter yet!

Julia & Ludo keeping warm in the straw trailer

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