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Forty Years with Birds and Dogs 

A Cozy Hen House

It's been cold this week. Really cold. Single digits at night. Cold enough to freeze a hen's comb--but Red, alias Americia, alias my Rhode Island Red, is still laying beautiful brown eggs every day. The reason? A thin 21 x 13 oil-filled, radiant, panel, 400 watt (low power !! heater set on a box out of the straw, boxed in securely with chicken wire, and plugged in up high where no one can peck at the electric cord.

Last winter I panicked when the temperature dropped below 14 degrees F. I hustled the 1 turkey, 2 geese, 3 chickens, and 4 ducks into the laundry room at one end and the garage at the other end of the house, padded the dog crates with straw, set water out, corralled them all in with chicken wire, stacked boxes, garbage cans and a ladder--and hoped for the best. The next morning everyone awoke with a noisy question: "What is this? Where are we?" but ate a fine breakfast of lay pellets and cracked corn, then proceeded to try and bathe in the miniscule water dishes I had laid out.

It took me two hours to clean up the mess. The birds went back to their pen when the thermometer registered in the twenties that next day, and Husband Don made a beeline for his computer to Google frantically. He ordered a thin, 13 x 21 inch oil heater, which arrived before the next single-digit night, thank goodness. I didn't know such things existed. There is a place in Heaven for physicists.

This year Husband Don ordered another thin 13 x 21 oil heater and installed it under his desk. The birds are happy all day long these frigid days, even when it doesn't make 20 in the daytime. Thanks to the weather men who magically guess the lows within a degree or two, I installed the thin 13 x 21 oil heater in the hen house the day before the Big Cool, and I can now rest comfortably at my desk, knowing their combs won't freeze.

What amazes me, still, is how they get along together in the winter, huddled in the hen house, all ten of them, to soak up the steady 40+degrees. Next spring they will be at it again--the big male duck Mr. Campbell chasing the young goose, while Lucy honks her head off at him for worrying her daughter; the miniature Mallard male (Kiebler, the quacker) going after everything that's female (including Lucy, who is ten times his volume); and his faithful mate, Ms. Ritz, an English Call Duck, calling loudly to stay home please; Khaki the big female duck following at a safe distance; and Little Bear Turkey complaining nervously about the ruckus. The chickens and dogs stay well out of the way.

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