We fell off the wind chill chart…
Someone wrote me asking about the temperatures last night here in Vermont. It was -34.2°F on Sugar Mountain. The 70 mph winds were the real killer giving a windchill of about -90°F. This is not a night to be lost wandering about on the mountain. Everything was hunkered down and not even the coyotes talked last night.
North End of a South Bound Ark
They also asked “Did the greenhouse live up to expectations for an below average cold night?”
The answer is a resounding yes, the pigs are very happy to be in the Ark.[1, 2] It is above freezing in the Ark without the need for any heaters. The pigs and the deep bedding pack’s composting action warm it from the ground up. There is no wind chill as well making it pleasant to bed down in the warmth of the composting deep bedding pack of wood chips and hay. My goal with the Ark was to give us October in January and February. We have done better than that – it is even September-ish in there right now on perhaps the coldest night of our winter. The Ark is completely open on the south end and has two large openings on the north end for pigs to go in and out. This also provides ventilation. The pigs can choose to be in the Ark where they have food – the composting wood chips and hay – or walk in to the whey troughs and waterers. This ensures exercise and distributes their manure across the winter paddocks where I’ll grow sunflowers, squash, pumpkins, beets, radishes, broccoli, turnips, mangels, sunchokes and such next summer in the winter paddocks which become summer gardens. This will then feed the livestock in the following fall and winter as pastures wane.
The butcher shop temperature monitor revealed just how cold the night had been. That low of -34.2°F is only 10°F warmer than the -44°F I’m running our flash freezer. Touching the flash freezer or products in there with bare hands can give you a burn, actually frost bite but it feels like a burn. Similarly one does not touch things with bare hands outdoors in the winter. Humans sweat too much and freeze quickly to metal, ice and other conductive surfaces. The dogs and pigs have a distinct advantage here since they don’t sweat on their pads, or pretty much anywhere.
The SoLow flash freezer goes down to -121°F which is just a bit colder than it was last night outdoors with the wind chill. I have fans in the flash freezer to turn it into a blast freezer so that for a mere $2.62 it will freeze down 50 lbs of meat colder than dry ice for when we ship meat. Dry ice is expensive around here at $2.50/lb and more than an hour away so the SoLow flash freezer has more than paid for itself.
Shrouded Winter Waterer
The water still flows through our buried shrouded waterers. We water our livestock using springs about 165′ higher and 2,500′ away on the mountain. These flow continuously year round serving our various pastures. Waterers are setup as buried 55 and 65 gallon plastic food grade barrels set into alcoves in the mountain to protect them from the winds. The water flows from the springs through 2″ and 1″ pipes from barrel to barrel. While passing through the earth the spring water picks up heat which it loses a little of at each waterer. The continuously flowing water doesn’t freeze, most of the time. When it occasionally does between two barrels we have had to drill it out with long sections of PEX tubing and hot water – an unpleasant task we have fortunately not had to do this year. Knock on wood.
Invisible Pigs in a Blanket
Can you find the sow and five piglets in that photos? No? Well they’re well hidden, buried in the hay on this cold winter day. During the day it got up to a high of -16°F and the wind died down, most of the way. The 0°F is the high from the previous three days. This is seasonable temperatures for our area in January. Usually February is a bit warmer but it’s been like this before. Don’t count on warmth until July when it will get up around 70°F during the day. Even then we have had snow…
This young first time mom is not in the Ark because she refused to stay there. She had gone down the road to the Sugar Shack looking for the perfect site to build a nest. After the third time of bringing her back in Ben and I just put a fence around here next to the bale at the loading dock. She has been quite happy there. It gives her privacy which she needs while the piglets are small. This is something sows seek out along the margins of the pastures during the warm months. In the winter we provide it by segregating late gestation sows from the main herds into maternity suites. After a week or few they join up with other sows on pasture and form co-nursing cohorts.
In the cottage it stayed up in the 50’s this weekend with just our little wood heater running for part of the day and none at night. The secret there is our 100,000 lbs of thermal mass inside an insulating blanket. Each winter we burn less than 0.75 cord of firewood in our tiny masonry stove I built – scavenged dead wood from our land. Even with our super insulated quadruple pane windows we still got ice build up on the inside this morning which has lasted all day. Next year I plan to add shutters for extreme cold like this.
Back in the greater than 200 year old farm house when it dropped to -45°F I remember the frost coming in through the walls following the path of the nails. You would see dots of hoar frost all over the walls from this effect. We fortunately don’t get that in the tiny cottage.
Similarly the butcher shop, with no auxiliary heat, is staying at about 37°F because of it’s 1.6 million pounds of thermal mass, six shells and heavy duty insulation. During the summer the butcher shop stays cool, lagging far behind the summer heat, cycling through a narrow range of about 37°F to 55°F over the course of the year. Heating and cooling are the number two expense after labor in most meat processing facilities so I designed ours to use natural systems to mitigate that high cost. Saving energy keeps the green stuff in my pockets. It’s not just good for the planet, it’s good for my bank account.
Outdoors: -16°F/37.2°F Sunny
Tiny Cottage: 50°F/55°F
Daily Spark: When I was little I burnt my finger on the stove and my mom told me don’t do that again. She had warned me before I did it. I purposefully touched the red hot burner to test her theory. I like science. But sometimes science hurts.