I have an inordinate affection for barn swallows. These tiny birds, weighing less than 1 OUNCE (~28 grams), fly thousands of miles from the northern to the southern hemispheres in early autumn and back again in Spring. They eat only insects, usually in mid-air, and their amazing aerodynamics is a sight to behold. I love to watch them dart, bank, and flit at high speed over freshly mown pasture, snapping up unseen flies and mosquitoes. Of God’s innumerable creations, they are one of my favorites.
When I was blessed enough to find and purchase this 13 acre place in the country, it had a very old barn with half the roof collapsed. There were nearly a dozen barn swallows nests in the barn, most likely built by 1900 (the year the house was built), and about 3 dozen darting about the little farm. Before I closed on the property, insurance companies required that the barn be demolished within 30 days. The barn was dangerous, with its collapsed and still-collapsing roof, but I hated to destroy the swallow colony’s home.
To replace the barn, a carpenter friend and I built this “swallow hotel” by modifying an otherwise useless pergola, adding a second 1/2 story to it, leaving openings for the swallows to use. I also sawed openings on both ends of a storage shed. I hoped to lure the swallows back to the original home the following Spring after their over-wintering flight to Mexico or South America.
I was delighted when 2 pair of swallows returned the following May (2021), despite the destruction of their barn home and built-to-last mud nests. They didn’t build new nests in the upper portion of the storage shed or their luxurious hotel. Instead, they built two mud nests beneath their 2nd-floor intended lodgings and on top of the front porch light.
By the beginning of October 2021, no more swallows. They had set out to their unknown destination, possibly as far south as central Argentina, ~5600 (~9100 km) away! The second week of May, 2022, 8-10 swallows appeared, a joyful sign of proper Spring in southern Wisconsin. They didn’t all settle in. There seemed to be some competition for nesting spaces, but at least 2 pair, probably 3, claimed the territory, and used the same nests built the previous year.
This year was a particularly good year for swallow reproduction. At least 2 broods of three were born and parents are nesting on at least 2 more broods of eggs this year. Given today’s explosion of the number of swallows on the wire and flying about, it’s been a banner year for barn swallows! I couldn’t be happier.
I had plans to make a small profit eventually from this small calm far. I’ve spectacularly failed to grow ginseng in the woods and, thus far, failed to grow and establish lavender from seed. I’ve also failed to market my very successful, organically grown, delicious garlic and Icelandic Sheep wool, but the wild birds are obviously thriving happy with their habitat. That’ll be fine. I bought this place to escape the city, to find peace in the country, first and foremost, and the numerous species of birds observed on my first exploratory visit convinced me this was the right place to be. Profit is so much than mere money.
Way back in 1988, after spending several months in France (where I was a migrant worker, picking strawberries and apricots — a unique experience and story for another time) and several weeks in England, I spent two days and nights in Iceland when my flight out of London was delayed because a bus load of Icelanders had been held up in traffic. This caused me to miss my connecting flight back to the states and allowed me to spend a couple of days in Iceland. Iceland Air — a great, low cost airline and the only airline flying to and from Iceland — was kind enough to house and feed me (lots of fish!) in a nice Reykjavik hotel until the next flight was bound for America. This is when I became enamored of Icelandic sheep.
They were everywhere outside the city, roaming freely about the landscape that looked like the moon with scant, scrubby vegetation. I called them “rasta sheep” because of their long wool that resembled dreadlocks. They were unlike any sheep I’d seen before: multi-colored, plump bodies on spindly legs, nothing like the off-white American sheep my grandparents raised or one normally sees in pictures of sheep.
So now, years later, having moved to a 13 acre place in the country with about 5 acres of pasture and roughly 7 acres of woods, I have a few of these calm, curious, hardy creatures.
After nearly 3 weeks of frigid, sometimes sub zero, temperatures and consistently accumulating snow, the thermometer reached a balmy 45 degrees yesterday with the sun shining brightly. Finally, some welcome melting of snow that has reached an average depth of 2-3 feet.
I won’t call this a sign of spring. It’s merely a recess. It’s very welcome, though. Before the absurd cold stretch during which it was hard for me to stay outside for more than 15 minutes at a time, Boz and I would walk the perimeter of the 12.77 acre property, through the pasture, into and around the woods, as part of acclimating him to his new home and getting a bit of exercise for both of us.
We both had developed a bad case of cabin fever, limiting our outside time to short walks to the coop to change the chickens’ water, collect eggs, and check on their health in the frigid temps. Some days, their water would freeze within an hour and I could usually summon the energy to change water 4-5 times/day.
Yesterday, we walked around about about half the property. I sank into the snow up to knees with every step. Boz sank to his belly, but bounded on and was delighted to be out and about again. It’s hard work to trudge though 2-3 feet snow. I would have to rest every 5-10 minutes. Made me feel very old. I am old.
Before I moved to the country, I knew my internet and television options would be limited. There would be no cable or fiber service as there is in the city. In the city, I used to switch between Spectrum cable and AT&T, regularly switching from one to the other when they offered a good deal and switching back again when the 1 or 2 year deal expired and the company jacked up the price. I played that switching game for >10 years and always had reliable service, without data limits.
The options in the country are limited to satellite or line-of-sight wireless service. I don’t watch much television and have never paid the exorbitant cost for cable tv in which one has access to hundreds of channels and watches less than a dozen of them, but I need an internet connection. It’s sadly difficult to live without some form of internet connection these days, especially when one has become accustomed to it over the last 25+ years.
Before moving out here, I did the research and found few options. The only wireless provider I identified was refreshingly honest and said their service wouldn’t work because of the trees surrounding the property and dense woods between the house and their tower. So I decided on HughesNet, a satellite provider. It was expensive ($70/month) and required a 2 year contract (before I had even tried it out), but the options that I had found, using the internet, of course;-), were few.
The internet connection itself wasn’t awful, but HughesNet put a brake on the speed of service when my usage went over 10 GB per month. It doesn’t take long at all to use 10 GB of streaming data. That’s the equivalent of about 2 movies and I made the mistake of using my “Smart TV” to watch a movie and 2-3 episodes of a history series when I first got the service. Within a week, I had used up my 10 GB of data. I could pay extra for more “tokens” to increase the amount of data, but I didn’t do that. $70/month was already considerably more than I had been accustomed to paying for basic internet service and television is an idle luxury I don’t require and can’t afford if I did.
The wi-fi was terrible, too. The HughesNet router had built-in wi-fi that was wildly unreliable and inconsistent. I would try to look at news on my phone or basic internet over wi-fi on a computer and it would be painfully slow or regularly drop the connection altogether. I could pay HughesNet another $100 for a wi-fi booster, but I didn’t trust that and certainly wasn’t going to give a lousy company any more of my money than I already had.
So I adjusted. I didn’t bother trying to watch any movies or streaming video on the television and limited the streaming video I tried to watch on the computer. Still, I went over the 10 GB of data every month well before the month was over. One night, some friends of mine came over and wanted to watch a movie. That went over like a lead balloon until my friend used his unlimited data cell phone account to stream the movie to the television.
In time, while talking to one of my new neighbors, he told me he used LiteWire, a small, LOCAL wireless company out of Evansville, WI (about 40 miles from here) and it worked great for him. I called them, they sent a technician out to test whether or not I had a line of sight to their nearest tower, and, VOILA!, he found a clear line of sight through a gap in the trees. So I signed up and everything works great, without limits or brakes or a long-term contract, the way business should be done. LiteWire is also $20/month LESS than HughesNet for MUCH better service with no limits on service. In the month that I’ve had it, it works as well as my urban internet serives, without glitches, brakes on data or interruptions. I bought my own LinkSys wi-fi router, too, for about $70, which works great right out of the box, MUCH better than the dreaded HughesNet router. No problems at all. I now have civilized internet service — city-style. It just works.
When I called HughesNet to terminate my service (and pay a serious “penalty” for ending my 2 year contract after only 5 months), the representative kept me on the phone for 29 minutes. He kept saying how they have “improved” their service and “guaranteed” I would be happier with it if I stayed. He never directly addressed the issue of a brake on speed when I used 10 GB of data and, time and again, wouldn’t take NO for an answer. Finally, he accepted the fact that I wanted to dump this lousy service even if it cost me another $380 and I had to climb up on the 2nd story roof to remove and return the dish receiver. Very irritating.
Don’t make the same costly mistake I made. If you move to the country, don’t choose HughesNet. They are awful.
This cold is getting old. It’s -5 degrees today, Valentine’s Day, with a “feels like” wind chill of -23 F. It hasn’t been above 15 degrees for 10 days and it’s not supposed to “warm up” to a HIGH of 20 degrees until Wednesday. On a day like today, I can’t be out for more than 10-15 minutes before my fingers go numb, then painful, through double gloves. That’s the time it takes to change frozen water for the chickens in the coop and the cat in the garage or refill a couple of wild bird feeders — all while Boz “helps” me by playing and bounding and wanting all the attention I can give him.
After my last venture outside to do these daily chores, it took almost 30 minutes for the pain to subside and the feeling to return enough to my fingers to type on the keyboard. I need to find better gloves, gloves that let me use my hands and fingers to perform the necessary tasks while protecting them from frostbite.
I’m amazed by the animals. When given his choice, Boz (the dog) will be OUTSIDE during the day, watching over the place, almost as much as he is inside, on the sun porch. And when I step out for one of my multiple daily treks to change frozen water for the chickens, cat, and wild birds, he eagerly bounds around in the snow, excitedly plays with me, chases after his chew toys, and seems utterly unaffected by the sub-zero temperature and triply sub-zero wind chill. He has a thick layer of loose, floppy skin under his short, thick, dense fur. And the pads on his feet must comprise a tough insulation that would make great gloves if I could find a pair made from something like his natural foot pad material.
I feel sorry for the chickens. But they have demonstrated how cold hardy they are after 10 solid days of this ridiculously cold weather. None have shown any signs of frostbite. The 3 Garys — Plymouth Rock laying hens — still lay 2-3 eggs/day. Roger the Rhode Island Red rooster has grown a lot. He’s bigger than the Garys now. The Annies (3 Australorp pullets) and the Ritas (3 Rhode Island Red pullets) have grown a lot, too, and all could be old enough to begin laying eggs any day now. I fully expect their egg-laying to be delayed a bit, given the conditions, but, other than not wanting to leave the relative warmth of the coop, all the chickens seem to be doing well. And I believe it’s the accumulating snow outside that I have been too cold to scoop away for them and too hesitant to melt away with the propane torch for fear of starting a fire with straw strewn around the ground that keeps them from venturing outside. What can I say? I’m not a robust chicken tender. It’s all I can do to change their water, collect eggs, and scatter some treat feed around for more than 10-15 minutes at a time.
The wild birds — Cardinals, Juncos, Sparrows, Mourning Doves, Nuthatches, Downy Woodpeckers, etc. — may be the most impressive of all. They eat a LOT more, yes. I need to fill their multiple feeders at least every other day now, as opposed to pre-winter time when I filled them once, maybe twice a week, at most. But, other than that, it’s like nothing is different for them. They’re puffed up a bit and look a little rounder. That’s it. They’re just as energetic as they are any other time of the year.
Meanwhile, I’m typing this in the well heated house, drinking a drab of warming Scotch before noon, and dreading my next trip outside.
When I got Boz, a mix of Kangal and Turkish Boz Shepherd, two very old landrace breeds of livestock guardian dogs originally from the Anatolian region of Turkey, my first goals were (1) bond well with him, (2) make him comfortable with new his surroundings, and (3) learn, respect, and stay within the boundaries of the 13 acre property.
So far, so good. Boz stays away from the dangerous road . He is curious and alert to passing vehicles, but thankfully leery of everything with an engine or motor — even the washer and dryer on the sun porch, his primary shelter, the noise of which he doesn’t like at all. He is content to remain within the confines of the property and loves our daily walks around the boundaries of the farm. And we have definitely bonded.
He is a puppy, though, only 4 months old, so he likes to play and chew. This was his original bed:
As we have bonded, he also wants to nip and play and wrestle with me like he would play with his siblings. He’s affectionate, but his “love bites” have resulted in frayed jeans, torn coat sleeves, and a little blood at times.
We’re working on this. It’s natural. At this age, he would nip and wrestle with his family. So I choose to be honored that he considers me family, but I have had to start teaching him that I am not a chew toy or a sibling capable of affectionately rough play and am doing my best to identify entertaining replacements for my arms and legs. I’ve purchased various commercial chew toys which haven’t worked too well while we’re walking around or I’m trying to tend to the chickens and fill the wild bird feeders. The most successful items, so far, have been an old towel and rolled-up feed bags.
I don’t want to discourage his affection, but I’d rather not lose more blood.
He’s a playful, sweet, good-natured puppy. We’re both learning.
At the slightest sound or sight of me, the turkeys dash off. Smart birds.
I wish the wild turkeys would use the feeder I got especially for them. It’s been filled with 50 lbs. of cracked corn for over a month and is still 2/3-3/4 full. I’ve seen small wild birds on the ground around it, but no turkeys.
Boz is one sweet mellow puppy. He’s seen wild turkeys on our daily walks around the property, barked a bit, and been very interested, but has shown no desire to chase.
Comfy on his sun porch on a cold day. I even plugged in a safe heater for him. He’s not inclined to go out without a good reason.
Roger is sprouting pretty green tail feathers and has begun to crow.
His crow is a little crackly, but getting stronger by the day. He’s 20-22 weeks old now, has grown a lot and is nearly the size of the plump Garys (the fully grown Barred Rock laying hens). He’s a pretty nice rooster, not too aggressive with the young Australorp and Rhode Island Red pullets and, so far, still intimidated by the fully grown, daring and adventurous Garys.