5 November 2017 – Cloudy and 23°
November hasn’t been a whole lot of fun on the Holler so far. For the first time since we have been operating off of solar power (over 14 months) we have had five consistently cloudy days. While we still have power, we are worried about the drain on the system’s batteries.
Quick Simple Explanation: The solar panels take in energy from the sun and charge the battery bank. The batteries provide power for all the needs of the homestead, but once they charge to 100% the sun provides the power directly. This allows for us to have electricity at night provided by the charged batteries. As advertised, the batteries can last for 48 hours with 100% charge and no sun. The batteries are intended to last 7-10 years and are by far the most expensive part of the solar power system. The best way to decrease the battery life is to run the charge down to a low percentage.
Additionally, we have a propane powered generator that should charge the batteries in the case of low sun days. Needless to say, we have been running the generator quite a bit the last few days.
I am definitely oversimplifying the system, but the gist of the situation is that while we have been quite literally living in a fog, the batteries have been providing the majority of our power. Plus, an icy snow left a white sheet of ice on the panels preventing us from sweeping them clear and allowing the little bit of sun available to charge up the batteries.
We are kicking ourselves a bit because we have been so cocky about how great the solar power is. Well, it has been great except for about 5 days! And we aren’t living without power. We also have heat from the wood stove and use propane for cooking and the water heater. We are just being ultra-conservative while we wait and wait for the sun to come back out! So enough complaining, these are minor problems and I think I see the sun trying to peek through the clouds.
Sadly, we also lost another chicken this week. We were at home, getting dressed and ready to head out the door when Dave looked out the window and saw a golden eagle swoop down onto Ginger, one of our favorite girls and our most prolific egg layer. Dave ran out and the eagle flew away, but she was already dead. Fortunately, it happened very quickly and we doubt she even knew what happened. As a result, we have been debating keeping the remaining four chickens cooped up again, but they are so used to free ranging it seems cruel to keep them in the run. We also think they may try to kill each other if confined since they are used to more space. The continual question: Is it better to be free and happy or contained and secure? We are discussing an expanded chicken run, but right now the ground is frozen and will make post driving nearly impossible. Ugh, poor Ginger!
On a positive note, we are really enjoying our winter chores. Every morning, we get up and let the chickens out of the coop, break the ice off of their waterer and fill up their feed. We check the beehive and make sure there is some thawed water on hand for them as well. Then we head out to feed several bales of hay to the cows. The cows can hardly wait for breakfast, especially since there is snow cover on the ground now. Right about the time we are getting ready to feed them, they come out of the woods and head toward the house and start mooing. “BREAKFAST!!!!! Get out here people!”
Then we start up the Mule and they get crazy because they know it is the hay wagon. They act like a bunch of little kids when they hear the ice cream truck coming down the street! They chase us up to the water tank where we distribute the hay and some cake as quickly as we can so we don’t get mauled. Lately we have also had to break ice up on the tank so they can get a drink.
The calves are still separated from the cows, so we head over the High Lonesome Ranch to muck the stall and feed the babies and fill up their water. They also get crazy when they hear us coming and while Dave fills up the creep feeder he has to be really careful not to get kicked. The corral they are eating in is a disgusting manure pile, despite our best efforts, so it would literally stink if he got kicked or fell down in that muddy mess!
While Dave feeds, I muck the stall. Then we fill up the water and we grab more bales of hay for the evening feeding of the cows. We repeat the whole drill just before sunset, and occasionally have a Keystone at the High Lonesome with Cowboy Dave and Linda.
Despite the power problems and the chicken murders, we are making the most of winter so far. The key is to dress in LOTS of layers, and to have a great pair of mud boots!