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“Snowflakes are one of nature's most fragile things, but just look what they can do when they stick together.”
– Vesta M. Kelly  
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  Volume No. 15 Issue No. 12 December 2018  

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Bill Radford

  Getting prepared for “ahem” ... winter
  By Bill Radford

   Longtime local journalist Bill Radford and his wife, Margaret, live on 5 acres in the Falcon area with ducks, chickens, rabbits, dogs, cats, two noisy parrots, goats and two horses. Contact Bill at billradford3@gmail.com

   So, how's your before-winter list coming?
   
   I believe my wife, Margaret, uttered those two frightening words — "before winter" — as early as spring this year. While I remember her saying those words, I don't remember what task she was putting on the to-do list that early — so it's quite likely it hasn't gotten done. But there is a list on a white board in the kitchen to tackle.
   
   Many of the items have already been taken care of, especially since an early taste of winter in October moved our timetable up. While there was only a dusting of snow, the temperature one night in the middle of the month plunged to 9 degrees, which seemed ridiculously low for that time of year.
   
   Luckily, it appears to have been just a short-lived arctic blast before the real thing comes later.
   
   But the cold spell meant it was time to plug in heated water bowls for the ducks, chickens and rabbits and move the horse water troughs from outside the horses' stalls to inside. It'll be our second winter with electricity in the barn, which means a glorious overhead light and fewer electric cords snaking across the yard. We don't have water to the barn, but our hoses are coiled up and ready to go. (In coiling them up, the water typically drains; our first winter, we didn’t know that trick and the hoses would freeze while stretched out on the ground between the outside faucet and the horses.) We also have a winter's worth and more of hay — happiness, as my wife says, is a full hay barn.
   
   Meanwhile, we've gotten the furnace checked and the pipes of the sprinkler system blown out (though not until after the first freeze). And we've harvested potatoes from the garden. With the extreme heat early on and the dry spring, it was a tough year for gardening. Even kale, usually our go-to crop, failed to grow; potatoes made up our only success story.
   
   We've also fulfilled Margaret's burning desire for an outdoor horse arena. Our neighbor Loy, the neighborhood tractor guy, leveled and tilled the ground for it. Then, with the pasture fence providing two sides of the arena, we disassembled our round pen and used those panels and a few others around the property to construct the remaining two sides of the 160-by-80-foot arena.
   
   So what's left on my list? Here's a sampling.
   
   A roof for the chicken pen. The chickens, of course, can escape the weather by cuddling up together in their coop, but we like to have more protection than that. In past years, we've covered the top of the chicken pen with a tarp. But no matter how many tie-downs and straps we use to keep the tarp on, the wind eventually shreds it into nothing. So I want something more durable. And that "something" will be the floor of a plastic outdoor shed that used to be the goats' house. The floor is all we have left of the shed, which was ripped apart by vicious prairie winds.
   
   Finishing touches on our new tack room/shed. Margaret has wanted a tack room for some time; there's not much room in the barn, and the old plastic shed that we've been using for tack is cramped and in rough shape. So we bought and got delivered a decades-old, 16-foot-by-8-foot shed from someone in Black Forest who had it for sale on Craigslist. We've put on a new door — the old one was sagging and too big and heavy — and are putting on new roofing. And we've been wrestling with what to do to protect the aging exterior, such as a simple sealant or a deck-restorative product. (I'm also putting a new coat of sealant on the barn doors, which are only a few years old but have taken a beating by sun, wind and rain.)
   
   Cutting firewood for our wood-burning stove. Margaret got a great deal on a bunch of wood from dead trees that had been cut down on a nearby property that was going up for sale. But the pieces of wood need to be cut down to fit in the stove. So it's time for me to buy my very first chainsaw. I was going to buy a gas one but in studying the instructions, the nearly dozen steps to start the thing seemed a bit daunting. So now I'm looking at an electric one, which might not have as much power but starts in one step — assuming I've remembered to plug it in.
  
There is a lot to do before winter sets in at the Radford ranch. A new-old tack shed is delivered as part of the preparations for colder weather. Photo by Bill Radford
 
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