Whenever I venture outside on these cold winter days, I always make sure to put on the appropriate footwear. If the ground is muddy, I bend over, wrap the ankles of my jeans close to my legs, and then, with a well-practiced toe-pointing maneuver, I slide first one foot and then the other inside my tall rubber boots.

When the ground is frozen, however, I sit on the ground floor landing, not far from the wood stove, and lace up my warm leather work boots, lingering for just a moment in the wood stove’s warmth.

I have learned that my uninsulated rubber boots, though good protection from creek valley mud, do not keep my feet particularly warm.

After only a short time outside, my toes will start to tingle, so on those very cold, well below freezing days, thick socks and my warm leather boots are definitely in order.

No matter what my footwear might be, as soon as I step outside to do the morning chores, I am greeted by my chickens. They are wise girls and seem to always keep an eye out to see when I might be leaving the house.

They are feathered vagabonds of the very best sort, living the daytime free-range life, gobbling up whatever tender morsels they can find around the farm, and they have definitely come to know that I am a soft touch.

I usually leave the house with a pocket full of left-over goodies to scatter for their dining pleasure. I can almost feel the ground shake as their feet pound the ground in a hurried rush to be by my side. Sometimes it is difficult to even step forward, my way blocked by what I like to think of as their chicken love, they cluster around me so closely.

I look down at my appropriately clad feet as I scatter their treats, and then I look down at their bare feet, colored green, orange or yellow.

“Girls,” I say, “Are your feet warm today?”

They respond with a contented chortle and gobble up whatever it is that I have scattered.

The cold winter ground does not seem to have fazed them in the least. On rainy, muddy days it looks as though they are wearing mud boots, but on snowy or frozen days, their feet are clean and their toenails almost glisten, stark white or black, in contrast to their brightly colored toes.

On those days when we leave the farm, we will occasionally return close to dusk, and I find myself gathering up chicken eggs from the coop later than usual, after my girls have already returned to the coop to roost.

On these later evenings, I will often reach up and take a resting birds into my arms. I have learned with wintertime egg gathering that it is best to take off my gloves when I reach for the eggs and put them in the basket. Too many eggs have fallen from my gloved hands and
broken, but with my winter bare hands, I have come to enjoy stroking my roosting birds’ soft feathers as I listen to their sleepy coos. I am always amazed at how warm they feel, even on the coldest nights. Their feet actually feel hot to my touch.

And so it has occurred to me that if ever Greg and I should run out of firewood to heat the house, we really do have a viable backup heating plan.

I have not mentioned it to Greg yet, but I do believe that Greg and I could simply move into the chicken coop, or, if Greg is not inclined to take shelter with my birds, that we could simply move a few of the chickens up to the loft to keep us toasty warm at night.

Sweet dreams, heated by hot chicken feet, but perhaps I will keep my plans to myself and not tell Greg.

With a smile.

Christine Tailer is an attorney and former city dweller who moved several years ago, with her husband, Greg, to an off-grid farm in Ohio. Visit them at straightcreekvalleyfarm.com.