Saturday, November 27

What about the chickens?

The question on everyone's mind is "what do you do with the chickens in the winter?". Okay, maybe it's not on everyone's mind, and it's not likely keeping you up at night, but it is a question we're frequently asked by friends and guests. And since this is our first winter with the ladies, we've had to do some leg work to figure it out.

Since our chickens are layers and not meat birds—ie. we got them for their eggs and not for the roasting pan—we'll keep them over the winter and not send them off to the local abattoir. Knowing this, we built the hen house with our heavy winters in mind. (Before Jim rolls his eyes all the way out of his head, I should clarify that when I say we built the hen house, I mean Jim and our neighbour, Bob, built the hen house.) 

It's a compact coop, the idea being that we could move it around to different parts of the yard, but it ended up being so heavy we can't budge it without Bob's tractor. The reason? It has more insulation per square inch than our own house! It's also positioned in a nicely sheltered spot, protected from the prevailing west winds and with some southern exposure. 

Insulation and location aren't enough, though. Chickens' feathers are great for keeping their bodies warm, but apparently their feet and crowns are susceptible to frostbite. Plus, the coop has to be warm enough to keep their drinking water from freezing. So we added heat with a simple 175w red heat bulb. It looks a bit like a club scene, but it makes for a nice warm coop and the ladies seem to be happy.

For now, we're still giving them access to their outdoor pen, and they're often outside regardless of the weather. Soon, though, the snow will be too deep and the really cold temperatures will settle in. Then we'll have to keep the girls in all day, every day. I guess this is where the expression "cooped up" comes from. We're thinking of getting them some cat toys so they don't get bored. Really.

They do have a window for some natural light, but Jim's planning on rigging up another light fixture—one with a plain, white bulb—that we can turn on during the day so the ladies aren't just in the dark red light all the time.

Egg production will drop and eventually stop for the winter. Partly due to the shorter daylight hours and partly to the stress of the cold, but for now we're still getting 6 eggs a day. That's one from each hen. Our neighbours up the road have 26 hens and they've already slowed down to less than 10 eggs a day. This could mean our ladies are spoiled, pampered chooks. But that's fine by me. You go girls!

Tuesday, November 16

Popular Picks

We have a rather eclectic selection of books available in the guest lounge and it's interesting to see which ones are popular with our guests. For instance, we often find the Book of Dog Breeds left out on the table or couch. Who knew it would be such a riveting read? 

I think because many visits are too short to start and finish a book from cover to cover (especially when readers are spending part of their time out exploring), the most popular books are those which don't require a big commitment of time. Collections of short stories, essays, anthologies, comic strips, poems, lists and how-to's.

Guests with a literary bent enjoy browsing through short stories from critically acclaimed authors such as Alice Munro, Robertson Davies, and Anais Nin. These we find on night stands and beside muskoka chairs. We also have some sci-fi/fantasy anthologies for short fiction to really take you away from daily life.

Some folks opt for lighter fare. The Calvin and Hobbes and Far Side volumes are popular and always good for a laugh. Non-fiction collections of lists and Canadiana must be great to read out loud and share as they're often found on the coffee table in the Coop. Books of lists and trivia are great to spark some interesting conversations with your travel mates. 

Bite-size reads can be the perfect way to unwind on a short getaway, but don't worry if what you're really craving is a good, meaty story. We tell our guests if they start one of our paperback novels while they're here, they're welcome to take it home to finish. Hopefully they'll pass it along to another reader when they're finished. Good books, like so may pleasures in life, are best when they're shared.

Tuesday, November 9

Recommended Reading for a Backwoods Getaway

Since November is the perfect month for a book-lover's getaway, I thought I'd share some of my favourite reads with you. The list of 'Books I've Loved Before' is far too long to trot out in its entirely, so I've chosen a handful that seem to me suitable companions for a quiet getaway here at the inn.

Bachelor Brothers' Bed & Breakfast
by Bill Richardson
An obvious choice since it is about a (fictional) B&B, the brothers who own it (Hector and Virgil), their "gentle and bookish and ever so slightly confused" guests, and a cast of local characters. Originally published in 1993, The Bachelor Brothers' Bed & Breakfast won the Stephen Leacock Award for Humour. Author Bill Richardson spins his tales with a wonderfully Canadian warmth and wit. Every time I read about Hector and Virgil, I want to check in and spend a week under their roof.

Crow Lake
by Mary Lawson
Set in an agricultural pocket of northern Ontario's Canadian Shield, Crow Lake is the story of a family touched by unexpected loss and the ripples of that loss through their lives. Canadian-born author Mary Lawson captures the multi-faceted spirit of a stoic yet compassionate northern community, resisting the urge to paint with broad strokes. It's easy to forget the book is fiction; I saw glimpses of my own family roots and values in her story.

Under the Tuscan Sun
by Frances Mayes
The non-fiction memoirs of an American writer who buys and restores an abandoned villa in Tuscany, Italy. Author Frances Mayes takes us with her on her incredible journey and shares with us the challenges, triumphs and tastes along the way. The book resonates with anyone who has ever followed a dream that others might call a folly; and it inspires those who have yet to take such chances. Mayes also shares her love of food and some authentic Italian recipes.

The Day of the Triffids
by John Wyndham
I found this book here when we moved in and read it that same winter. Perhaps reading about walking, carnivorous plants while isolated and surrounded by vast amounts of trees is not the brightest of ideas, but it certainly made an impression on me. First published in 1951, some aspects of the story are perhaps a bit dated, but it still provides a fascinating "what if" scenario that is excellent fodder for conversation when you're sitting by a fire in a little cabin in the woods.

Through Black Spruce
by Joseph Boyden
A beautifully told story that belongs on any reader's list, I add it here for its rendering of the north. Author Joseph Boyden creates a vivid picture of Northern Ontario at the southern tip of James Bay and the people who call that land home. The characters and the landscape come to life, making me yearn to sit down beside protagonist Will Bird and learn what he knows, to share in his world. The story lingered long after I turned the last page.

Beauty Tips from Moose Jaw
by Will Ferguson
A wonderful, insightful, humourous collection of essays about this collection of places and people we call Canada. Author Will Ferguson shares his experiences from various outposts across the country, tying together the threads of our colourful national fabric. A great book for getting Canadians to look at ourselves, and a great look inside for visitors to the country.

All of these titles (and more!) are available to borrow during your bookish getaway. Or bring your own selection and recommendations for me to add to my ever-growing "must read" list!