Greenpoint: Hibernation season arrives

In the winter, it’s hard to determine which goats are actually pregnant and which are simply “great with coat.” (Margaret Hartley photo)
PHOTOGRAPHER:

In the winter, it’s hard to determine which goats are actually pregnant and which are simply “great with coat.” (Margaret Hartley photo)

When the cold weather kicked in, my husband started talking about hibernating again. He only left South Florida roughly 40 years ago, so it stands to reason that he hasn’t yet gotten used to the cold, and snoozing through the worst of it always seems reasonable to him.

He’s very convincing. I was working at the kitchen table early one morning last week, and I could hear snoring from upstairs — dog and man as one — and from downstairs — the wild cat who spends most nights in the basement. He used to be on guard at all times, ready to run and hide when we came downstairs to bring him food or get something out of the freezer. Now he curls up on top of a box and sleeps soundly. He’s found a way to shelter from winter, and the service is pretty good here too.

We had our first taste of bitter cold last week, with morning temps below zero and highs in the single digits. That means it must be about time for the goats to start having babies. It’s hard to tell which ones are pregnant, since they’ve grown that extra cold-weather layer of underfur. They are all equally fat, and even the male goats look pregnant.

We’re pretty sure little Honeydew, a very short orange goat, is with child and not just great with winter coat. She’s small enough to break out of the goat yard every day and wander, nibbling chicken feed and sampling hay from the shed before napping on the front steps, leaning up against the door.

She wants to come inside, and sometimes my husband indulges her. She trots right over to the Christmas tree, takes a delicate bite or two, and then allows as how she could go back out. Then she spends a few hours lying down in the ice fishing sled we use to drag hay bales from the shed to the goat yard.

She is spoiled and very sweet. When you pass near her, she lifts her nose for a kiss and wags her little tail. She is just about as wide as she is long right now, and we have no idea when she plans on delivering her kids.

The goats have winter figured out. Why they choose to have babies at the coldest time of the year is beyond us, but they know how to keep warm.

They start growing their wooly undercoats as the days shorten, and on very cold days and nights they hunker down together in their shed. But if it’s over 20 degrees and clear, they’ll often spend a night out in their yard, sleeping under the stars.

The chickens are not as clever. Throughout the fall, more and more of them decided that the tree in front of the house was the preferred night roosting spot, despite having a coop, a shed and three auxiliary hen shelters. Unlike goats, they are not naturally winter animals, so it seems they would prefer the relative warmth of an enclosure to being up in a tree. But as soon as dusk hits, they start heading up into the branches, one after another, and if we manage to grab a few to move into a more fitting shelter, they all make a fuss.

That leaves the mama hen and her young poult in one night cage, a couple of older hens in the coop in the yard, a few more in the hay shed — and a tree full of roosters and hens.

Like my husband, chickens come from a more tropical clime. Those guys will never understand winter.

Greenpoint appears every other Sunday. Look for it next on Jan. 30. Reach Margaret Hartley at [email protected] or on Twitter @Hartley_Maggie. Opinions expressed in Greenpoint are not necessarily those of the newspaper’s.

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