Snow below, clouds above, and the pre-dawn light wavers between them. Only the occasional passing car breaks the stillness.
The Wyandotte roosters are the first animals to notice my approach. First one, and then all of them challenge me with their strident crowing. Then a new voice joins in with a deeper and hoarser crow than the others. That must be Jack, the big, white rooster-of-uncertain-lineage. I have never heard him crow before. Although he is the youngest rooster, he bears himself with a quiet confidence, unlike the strutting, flashy, vocal Wyandottes. Nobody messes with Jack, king of the chicken yard.
Before long the crowing wakes the ducks, and their sleepy quacks echo across the hollow. A few goats bleat greetings, but otherwise prefer to stay bedded down in their warm hay. Balto is silent, because he knows the sound of my car and recognizes my step. He meets me at the goat fence and escorts me to the poultry pen. The ducks panic and run laps around the chicken house, perturbed by the change in their routine. They're not used to seeing people until feeding time in the afternoon.
The nest box opened, and the goat trough cleared of ice, and it's time to go home. Banshee follows me back to my car, trotting at my side like a dog. As soon as I'm safely inside, she heads back to the warm haystack and her kittens, and I head for my warm home.
17 hours ago