‘Honk, Peep (Oink?) or Gobble’ If You Love Spring!

Spring has finally sprung.

The arrival of spring also brings with it new joys of farming – not just in the garden, but also in the barnyard. Spring chicks will be arriving soon, as well. And with them, the challenges that come with farming in the Yukon.

Both turkey poults and chicks need to be kept warm and dry until they grow in their true feathers. We keep them under heat lamps that help monitor their temperature.

When the power goes off (and you can be sure it does every spring), we need to be able to keep them warm until it comes back on. If that happens during the daytime, it isn’t as serious as if it happens at night (as it did last year).

We were just checking on the chicks, before calling it a night, when the power went off. Not knowing how long it would be off, we knew that we needed to act quickly to keep the chicks warm.

Our nights cool off too much for them to have lasted until morning without a source of heat. So we loaded them all up into large plastic tubs and carted them into the house.

We placed them close to the wood stove. They probably weren’t at their optimum temperature, but they were warmer than if they had been left in the barn. This slight drop in temperature and, of course, the hassle of moving them, left them unsettled.

As a result, they were chirping and peeping quite noisily – too noisily. There wasn’t much more we could do for them, so we went to bed with the door closed to keep out the noise.

By morning, they had calmed a bit and it was quieter.

When I checked on them, we had lost only one turkey. Chicks tend to pile up when they are cold, and turkeys need more heat than chicks do. And even though they were closer to the stove than the chicks, it probably wasn’t warm enough for them. Even though the loss is regrettable, we probably would have lost many more if they had been left out in the barn.

Every year we raise turkeys, chickens and pigs. And last year we also raised four geese. These geese weren’t part of the exodus out of the barn that night. We were out of containers to hold them and, as geese are supposed to be hardier than chickens and turkeys, we left them in the barn with the laying hens.

In the morning, they looked a little scared at having been left in the dark all night, but other than that they were fine. When a gosling hatches, it already has a layer of fat to help retain heat. Because of this, they can follow their mothers into icy water, swim and not die of hypothermia.

Geese need water as much as ducks do. It is hardwired into them. So I gave our four little goslings a large basin filled with water and stayed to watch how they liked it. Three of the four went to the opposite side of the pen. It was new and it scared them.

One decided to check it out. He went all the way around it, nipping at it and testing the water. Then he decided he needed a more in-depth investigation, so he climbed up into the basin.

For a while he just floated there, getting used to the water or maybe trying to decide what to do next. Then he started to paddle his feet. But he used too much force and splashed water out of the basin and onto the wall behind him.

The smacking noise scared him, so he bolted out of the basin, never looking back. It took him a bit to gain the courage to give it a second try. But he did. The other three had been happy to just watch as he was experimenting. By the next day they all were using the basin to have their daily baths in.

Even though chicks and turkey poults need to be kept warm and dry, goslings need the opposite. They didn’t mind the cooler temperatures and needed water. It was an eye-opening experience to find such a hardy, albeit humorous, bird for the Yukon.

We will be raising more geese this year.

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