Keeping Track of Wind Chills

This is the time of year when wind chills become especially problematic for those of us who spend substantial time outdoors. The wind chill doesn’t actually make things any colder. If your thermometer reports that it’s –9 degrees outside, then no matter what else happens, anything left outside long enough will cool to –9. However, the wind chill affects how fast the item cools. Obviously, staying outside until you body cools to that temperature will be deadly. In fact, the risk that you’re trying to avoid by monitoring the wind chill is hypothermia—a condition where your body cools faster than it can produce heat. Your normal body temperature is about 98.6 degrees. When your core temperature reaches 95 degrees, you begin experiencing hypothermia.

A simple way to monitor your risk is to take your temperature before and after you’re outside. If there is a risk of hypothermia, your temperature reading will go down. Of course, you can take an easier route by using any of the charts available for assessing your maximum time outdoors.

Using a Wind Chill Computer will help you determine how long you can stay outside if you’re absolutely healthy in every other way. You input the temperature and wind speed outside your door, rather than the temperature and wind speed reported on the radio. The wind chill will actually differ based on your location. For example, I live on a hill where the wind speed tends to be higher than it is in the nearby town, so the wind chill also tends to be higher here. If I used the wind chill reported in town, I could stay outside too long. I waited to go out this morning until the temperature rose to –7 and the wind gusts were at 12 mph. That made the wind chill –26 and my maximum time outdoors 30 minutes.

The wind chill charts assume that you’re in great shape and that you don’t take any medications that could affect your body’s ability to produce heat. If you have health issues, then you must reduce the time you spend outdoors when wind chill becomes a factor. Unfortunately, I can’t seem to find a resource that speaks to these issues, possibly because trying to calculate an outdoor time under these conditions would prove to be too complex. The best idea is to exercise caution and always stay out as little as you can.

My winter work coat is roomy. I bought it that way on purpose to make it easier for me to work. However, the roominess also lets me wear two shirts under my coat. I also wear a knit cap under the hood of my jacket to reduce heat loss through the top of my head. The gloves I wear are quite heavy and I wear long johns under my pants (which are also cut roomy for winter use). It’s essential to cover up if you want to avoid getting hypothermia.

Taking care outside is an essential part of surviving the winter. Always assume that something could happen to keep you outdoors longer than you planned and act accordingly. Make sure that someone knows where you’re at if at all possible so that help could arrive in time if you get into trouble. When in doubt, the work can probably wait until tomorrow, so wait until then to complete it when possible. Let me know your thoughts about wind chills at


Shoveling It!

There is nothing quite so pretty as the sun glinting on new fallen snow. The landscape is whitewashed. The brown and dying leaves are covered over and hidden from view. There is even a crisp clean scent in the air that is impossible to reproduce at any other time of the year.

When you live in the north, it is important to prepare for less than ideal winter conditions. Because of the threat of ice underfoot and snow overhead, a walk from the house to an unattached garage or barn can be a major challenge. Over the years, we have adapted some tools and developed some strategies to help us stay safe. Here are some suggestions:

  • A good shovel is a good investment. Take the time to handle any shovel that you are going to purchase before you spend money on it. Test it out in the store to make sure that you are comfortable with how it feels and moves in your hands. Slide it along the floor. Lift your coat with it (to mimic the lifting of snow). Try before you buy. There are some great ergonomic shovels out there, but there are also some gimmicky tools as well.
  • Spray the edge of the shovel with a product like Pam cooking spray or dry silicone spray to make the snow slide off easier. Wet silicon lubricants, such as WD40, don’t work for this purpose because they have alcohol or other solvents in them that can actually melt snow, making it stick to the shovel.
  • New fallen snow is easier to shovel. Getting out into the snow before it gets too deep will give you a better result when clearing driveways or sidewalks. Yes, you may have to shovel a couple of times, but for good traction it is best to clear down to the surface. If the snow is removed before the first person steps on it, it clears much better.
  • Be ergonomic when shoveling. Start slowly. Use several different styles for moving the snow, rather that repetitive motions over the whole job. This will exercise different muscle groups. If the snow is wet and heavy, lift smaller loads with each shovelful.
  • If you aren’t able to get clear ground underfoot, install handholds. Adding handrails down the stairs and along the sidewalk can save you from a dangerous fall. Ski poles can be stored by the door and used to help you walk over icy and snowy ground.
  • If you are doing lots of outside chores, there are several styles of boot cleats that grip the icy ground very securely. They can be found in most sporting goods stores, usually in the ice fishing section.
  • Lastly, there are several different types of snow melting products to help with traction on your walks and driveways. Read the instructions carefully and follow instructions. Stay current with local ordinances for their usage in your location.

If the snow is light enough, you can use a leaf blower to remove it from the walks quite quickly and with little strain. Walking upright will also reduce the risk of falls. Always be sure to wear hearing protection when you use a leaf blower. Even if the sound is less noticeable on a snowy day, you can still damage your hearing.

Waking in the morning to a bright shiny day is one of the benefits of living in the snowy north. Staying safe while walking and shoveling will give you the chance to “slide” when you have your sled or toboggan in hand.

If you have any tips or stories about making it through the winter, I would love to hear about them.  Please leave a comment here, or email John at

Stay Safe and Warm this Winter!



Baby, It’s Gonna Get Cold!

It’s only September and yet the thermometer has dipped into the 30’s. Since we live in a big old farmhouse with lots of character, we have consciously changed it as little as possible. In a perfect world, we would have all of the original storm windows. But unfortunately, we don’t live in a perfect world. We have a mixture of old wooden storms, some aluminum and a couple of windows that have been missing the storm for years. But we have learned how to button up this old fashioned house using some old techniques and developing a couple of new ones by trial and error.

  • First and thankfully, a previous owner had the foresight to completely surround the framing of the house with insulation from the attic to the basement. That addition is key to keeping any house warm during the Wisconsin winters. There are several ways to insulate the walls in all price ranges. Many of them can be done by a do-it-yourself enthusiast.
  • The next most important thing that can be done to keep the drafts out of an old home are tight windows. A previous owner installed aluminum double hung windows. We check them over every year (washing them when possible) to make sure that there is a tight seal. If the caulking has hardened or fallen away, we replace it. There are also some of the original wood framed storm windows that we check over every year—re-caulking as necessary. We put the storm in the window and go inside with a candle to check for any draft. If there are drafts or the window feels loose, we fill it in with rope putty.
  • For windows that have the storm completely missing, we use the plastic window kits. In order to be effective, they are best installed on a calm, warm day so that the adhesive is tacky enough to stick well. For any window that is going to be subject to lots of wind, it is a good idea to install plastic on the inside and outside as well. Follow the directions for the window product.
  • Lastly, the simplest thing to do to help the house be warmer in the winter is is the same as when our ancestors did it. Open the shades during the day! Capture the solar energy inside on sunny days, then close the drapes at dark and hold the heat in!

Another item that must be attended to before the winter sets in is making sure that your furnace is in good working order. It is a good idea to leave this to the expert. Your favorite furnace guy can come out and inspect and or repair your furnace. There may be a charge for the service but compared to an emergency call in the dead of winter; or worse yet a fire call, it is well worth the price!

  • Smoke detectors need their batteries changed twice a year. Utilizing the  biennial time change date will help jog your memory. If your smoke detectors are old (anything over ten years), it may be time to replace the whole unit rather than just the batteries. (If you want to test your smoke detector, use a spray tester, rather than the smoke from a match or candle, because the smoke can actually cause the detector to fail.)
  • CO (carbon monoxide) detectors are inexpensive and useful tools that have been proven to save lives.
  • Outlets are often a source of secret heat loss. Insulating liners are available that can be installed behind the outlet cover that can help keep these sneaky heat thieves from creating cold spots in the room.

Some people dread the fall, knowing that it is the precursor to winter. Others, like me, revel in the beauty of the fall colors and the smell of the crisp leaves. I thank the good Lord for the reminder (and the time) to prepare for the cold season. Good planning and good preparation leads to a great party! So this winter, prepare for Old Man Winter and Party On!

If you have tips for preparing for the fall preparation I would love to hear from you! Please respond here or send an email to John at



Winds and the mists that swirl,
their fierce beauty unfurl,
glistening diamonds in the sky.

The barren branches creak,
subtle language they speak,
lustrous diamonds on the plant.

Nature’s children at play,
frolic throughout the day,
gleaming diamonds on the ground.

Light beams shatter and break,
their paths beguile and quake,
polished diamonds in my eye.

The day is at an end,
no more light can it bend,
reflecting diamonds no more.

Dedicated to Rebecca for her homecoming.
Copyright 2014, John Paul Mueller

Cleaning the Coop in December

It’s December and time to check on your outside animals to ensure they remain comfortable. The rabbits are relatively easy. All you really need to do is ensure the cages are remaining reasonably clean (wire brush those bunny pellets from the cage’s hardware cloth) and that any protective measures, such as the window plastic you put in place to keep the wind at bay, are still in place and in good condition. The entire process will likely take less than an hour (if that long—my six cages took about 15 minutes).

The chickens are another story. You need to check the weather carefully and try to find a day when the temperature will get above freezing, if possible. The manure in the coop will be a lot easier to get up if you can get it to defrost a little. You want to clean out all of the old hay and manure. Unlike your fall cleanup, you won’t wash the nest boxes. In fact, this is a really bad time to do anything with water in the coop (except for the chicken’s drinking water) because it won’t dry properly. The idea is to clean as much as possible by scraping up the manure and getting it out of the coop onto your compost heap. I find that a combination of a barn shovel and a wide bladed putty knife do the job quite well.

This is also the time to check for air leaks again. Your chickens can keep cozy if your coop is relatively air tight.  You don’t want to close it up so tight that the ammonia fumes build up and hurt the chickens, but you also don’t want anything like a strong breeze in the coop.  The chickens will normally keep warm by huddling together at night on top of their nest box or other roosting area you provide. So, it’s essential that you keep the air leaks under control.

When replacing the hay, make sure you pack each nest box a little more than you would in summer to give each chicken a nice place to lay her egg. I’ll use regular alfalfa hay during the summer months because it’s stiffer and breaths better. However, during the winter months I use grass hay. It’s softer and provides better warmth. You must make sure the hay you use is completely dry and mildew free because it absolutely won’t dry during the winter months and you don’t want your chickens to acquire respiratory diseases.

Because it is winter, the chickens are more likely to keep you entertained as you clean the coop. Remember that the coop is their home, so you need to be patient as you work with them. During the cleaning process, one chicken proceeded to scold me, but another pecked at my feet (apparently trying to get off all the snow). A third kept insisting that she needed to be held and petted (slowing my progress). All this attention is quite normal during the winter cleanup.

Keeping the coop clean is quite important if you want to maintain your chicken’s health. That means getting out in winter, when conditions for cleaning are less than ideal. Working on the one or two days during the winter when the temperatures get a little higher will make things a lot easier, but even so, you’ll be trying to clean the coop with a bulky jacket and gloves on, so it’s going to take more time than in the summer months. Let me know your thoughts about cage and coop cleaning at


How Cold is Too Cold for Animals?

In many ways, we follow some relatively old fashioned methods of animal husbandry. For example, a lot of people now use heated barns or other enclosures to protect their animals from winter. Of course, there are a lot of benefits to this approach, such as maintaining productivity during winter and reducing animal stress.

However, there are also disadvantages that you must consider from a self-sufficiency perspective. For example, heating an environment for the animals incurs additional cost that is unlikely to be repaid with additional productivity. In addition, such an approach is harder on the environment because the heat is normally provided by some sort of fossil fuel. Unfortunately, the biggest problem is the effect on the animal. If there is a power outage or similar issue that causes a loss of heat, the animal is going to be adversely affected in a serious manner because it isn’t used to the cold and hasn’t had any time to develop a fat layer. We can put on additional layers of clothing when the heat fails—animals typically don’t have this advantage. Animals also tend to have natural cycles, just as we do. The change in seasons helps keep an animal’s internal clock in sync.

Of course, it gets pretty cool here in Wisconsin. We do winterize the animal cages in various ways. For example, the rabbit cages receive a covering of plastic sheeting over the front to keep the wind at bay and also reduce some heat loss. Likewise, the chicken coop window receives a plastic sheet and the back window is both closed and secured. You can’t make the cages airtight, however, because doing so would trap harmful gasses from animal feces that would eventually prove detrimental to animal health. Even during the winter months, animal cages must have at least a little air movement to promote good health.

During the winter months we also feed the animals food with a higher fat content that provides additional calories to help keep them warm. In most cases, this means adding more corn and oats to the rabbit food and providing them with additional high energy food treats (such as carrot scraps). The chickens receive various types of seeds with their feed, along with high protein sources such as meal worms. This approach follows what happens in nature. The seed heads of plants are exposed above the snow, so animals eat these high energy sources of nutrients during the winter months.

Our chickens love the forage all throughout the year. During the summer months they go out every day unless the weather is absurdly harsh (the weather service is predicting tornadoes). In the winter the chickens only go out on warmer, sunnier days. During the cooler days we keep them inside where they can huddle together to preserve warmth.

Part of our strategy is also to use the natural environment to our advantage. For example, all of the cages and the coop are south facing so that any sunlight tends to warm the interior of the cage or coop. There are times when we open the coop door and feel a surge of warmth come out simply because of the effect of the sun on the interior. So, it’s possible to rely on some level of passive heating to help keep animals warm.

Beside the other measures we take, we ensure we check the animal’s water more regularly during the winter to ensure the animals all have liquid water (not iced over in any way) to drink during much of the day. A good source of high energy/high calorie food and water are both essential to animal health during the winter months. All of our animals drink less during the winter, so giving the animal less water, but filling the water trays more often, is the best strategy to follow.

If the weather were to get terribly cold, we also make provision to keep the animals short term in the garage or basement of our home. Neither area is warm enough to stress the animals, but is warm enough to keep them from getting frostbite (a real problem for chicken combs). What sorts of things do you do to make your animals more comfortable and maintain their health in winter? Let me know at