Posts from the previous two weeks were about HVAC. The Neilson ratings have come in and I’m concerned I may have permanently torpedoed our business. As an attempt to drive up viewership, today’s post will be about cats. There will be pictures. Cat pictures.

Snowy Brook Farm believes firmly in the Three Cat Doctrine. This principle states that the household can and must support three cats at all times to maintain an appropriate balance of mice carcass, carpet hairball stains, and nighttime wailing. Fewer than three cats and you risk not having enough throwaway photos for the annual Christmas card. More than three cats, and Amy gets put in charge of scooping poop. And so, the Three Cat Doctrine has been maintained at Snowy Brook, as well as our previous enterprises, for nearly a decade. With that out of the way, allow me to introduce to you to the three current cats of Snowy Brook Farm, in order of most to least obese (this also happens to be chronological. No correlation I’m sure).

Name: Pudge
Age: Old
Weight: A Lot

This is Pudge. I considered going with a picture that showed his face, but frankly, that’s not what Pudge is about. Pudge has one trick. That trick is belly rubs. There’s absolutely nothing else to this thing. In fact, let’s go through the 7 characteristics that define life and see if Pudge even qualifies.

  • Cellular Organization: Pudge is a unicellular organism composed of a single fat cell. Passes, but barely
  • Homeostasis: Should Pudge’s external environment change, he is unable to stay composed internally. Hard fail.
  • Metabolism: Pudge is able to convert food to poop. Pass
  • Growth: Pudge grows exponentially with time. Pass
  • Adaptation: Changing the cat food from pate to chunky took a few days for him to understand that both were a form of food, but he eventually figured it out. Pass
  • Response to stimuli: Touch Pudge, he flops. Sunbeam? Flop. Pile of clothes? Flop. A single response regardless of the form the stimuli takes. Pass, but only with like a C-
  • Capable of Reproducing: Nope

So there you have it. As far as life goes, Pudge probably falls more in that hazy virus category rather than a fully complex organism. We enjoy his presence nonetheless, but overall, he ranks 3rd on the cat tier list.

Name: Bird
Age: Increasing
Weight: Increasing

This is Bird. Her name is actually an Always Sunny reference, but everyone just assumes her name is Bird because we own 600 of them, and that fine. Bird follows the “scaredy cat” archetype. If you visit, you will never meet Bird, for every sound you make sounds to Bird like an attempt on her life. Despite this, she is adaptive to her surroundings and is the only cat that has shown a shred of intelligence in this household. Additionally, she is the only cat that does not scream at 3am. For this reason, Bird currently has the distinction of Best Cat.

Name: Pea (formerly known as Peacock)
Age: Also Increasing
Weight: Surprisingly healthy!

Pea is the newest member of the household, having been here approximately a year. Amy rescued him as a stray following a hit-and-run, nursed him back to health, and ever since he has loathed her for it and taken to me instead, who gives him very good pets. Suggested names originally included Roadkill, One Eyeball (he originally only had one working eye from the accident), and TongueStickyOutey. Ultimately we settled on Peacock due to his incessant screaming reminiscent of a bird in heat. Since then, he has been neutered, and so we dropped the cock and just call him Pea. Pea is a normal cat. Pea hunts. Pea screams. Pea sees fragile items and knocks them over. Though originally more aloof, Pea has been learning the ways of the flop from Pudge and is slowly transitioning from “wild feral” to “fat flopping cat”. His fear of pate is the only thing keeping him at a stable weight.

So those are our cats. But like any good sitcom, it’s the supporting roles that truly elevate the cast. Here are some of the supporting cats in our lives.

Poopsie is the queen. Dropped off on the side of the road as the runt some 10 years ago and found by Amy and her siblings, Poopsie took her runt status with prejudice and through hard work, became The Greatest Cat. Friendly, curious, regal, lethal, all while possessing the dumbest face, Poopsie combines all the best qualities of cats and shows that microevolution is possible in mammals. She is the mother of Pudge and many other popular kittens, and currently resides in Northeastern Pennsylvania where she can keep a close watch on Amy’s family.

This is CatSpar, the neighbor’s cat. Do not be fooled by his adorable looks and extremely pettable head, for CatSpar has a single purpose in life: To destroy the Snowy Brook cats and void the Three Cat Doctrine.  While upon first glance he may come across as a major antagonist to the Snowy Brook trio, there have been surprisingly fewer coyote attacks since he began making his presence known. Perhaps CatSpar is less of a villain and more of an antihero. Either way, very cute.

We’ve got (top-right) Plume, (bottom-left) Egg, (bottom-right) Marshmellow, and (top-left) We Paid $300 to Have You Neutered 2 Days Ago And Now You Decide to Die? These four cats were all once members of the Three Cat Doctrine at Snowy Brook Farm, but have moved on to other things for various, dead-related reasons. They were all good bois, and it is believed that in moments of dire stress, the current Snowy Brook trio calls upon the spirits of these past lives to help guide them, be it in discovering some sort of new yowl, finding new crevices to flee from scary guests, or learning to poop right on the edge of the litter box for maximum mess.

Alright, you got your animal pictures. Next week we’ll talk desuperheaters! No? More animal stories? Fine.


The Inevitable Heat Pump Post (Part 2)


-It was snowing
-There were some math equations
-These farmers have a whiteboard in their dining room?
-Heat pumps are a good way to save substantial money on heating costs and make the planet less sad


And now for the thrilling conclusion!


Up to this point, the heat pumps I have referred to are all “air-source” heat pumps. They extract heat from the air and move it into your home. Now there’s two issues with this when you’re a farm on the highest point in Erie County, NY, downwind of a Great Lake.

  1. There are days during the winter where extracting heat from the outdoor air becomes a bit difficult, as the outdoor air is -10F.
  2. These systems, just like a central air conditioner, require the compressor to be located outside 

Okay, maybe a heat pump isn’t ideal for this location.

But this is where “ground source” heat pumps come into play. Instead of transferring heat from the outside air, these units instead use heat from water in pipes buried underground, which run into a compressor in the basement. When the heat is extracted, the water cools, but as it circulates through the underground pipe, the ground recharges its temperature, serving as a method of creating a near-perpetual heat source. This type of system is typically referred to as “geothermal” systems because it’s a much cooler term to market, but in reality it’s just another type of heat pump, using water instead of air.

So how much underground pipe does it take to maintain a consistent loopfield temperature throughout the year?

Answer: A lot. For us, it was 5400 feet of slinky pipe buried 8 feet below the ground. All this to achieve a water temperature that varies from 32F in the winter to 60F in the summer. 

But did it work?

Like any completely normal human being, for the last 3 years I had been tracking our daily heating usage, originally with the propane furnace and later on with the heat pump. Here is a plot of the daily cost of heating our house in 2021 was using propane ($2.50 a gallon) versus the heat pump in 2023 ($0.10 per kWh)

Totally normal, human thing to do! Anyways, the end result is that our annual heating bill is $500 instead of $2500, and I don’t spend every evening in the basement sniffing the tiny leaks in our gas line and squirting the joints with soapy water, like normal people totally do. It also produces free hot water in the winter, which will be discussed in Heat Pumps Part 3  is neat!

So that’s it. That’s my tale on heat pumps. But is a heat pump right for you? In almost all situations, an air-source heat pump is a decent investment so long as you’re not currently using cheap natural gas, and you don’t live in New England or California where your electric prices are $0.30/kWh. In a few special circumstances where rebates are available and expert installers are prevalent, a ground source heat pump may even make financial sense. So if you think your situation is right for a heat pump, talk to your local HVAC contractor today and tell them Zach sent you! They won’t know what the hell you’re talking about.

You folks have been robbed of animal pictures for 2 weeks now. I will rectify that next week

The Inevitable Heat Pump Post (Part 1)

Hello again everyone!

Just a reminder that if you’re interested in posts that do not have math in them, please visit the Snowy Brook Facebook page for relevant, interesting farm stories, and not the ramblings of a middle-aged farmhand.

With that out of the way… since it’s snowing today, I think we’ll make today’s topic about HVAC! Buckle up folks

Northern Country Livin’ ™ has its advantages. Cheap land. Serene snowfalls. Waking up an hour before sunrise because your chickens want the world to know that they are both alive and sexually active. But one thing that’s not great about Northern Country Livin’ ™ is the heating bill. Rural areas don’t have access to cheap natural gas, and many homes around here are reliant on heating with propane (or worse, heating oil). At $2.50 for a gallon of propane, you’re looking at $2000+ a winter to heat a typical Buffalonian home to a reasonable temperature (my parents would make it clear that the 63F we heat it to here is NOT reasonable). But folks, it’s 2024. Technology has improved! That’s why we kicked our propane furnace to the curb and got a heat pump installed instead. WARNING! Math is coming

Yes, a heat pump! It’s exactly like an air conditioner, but with a reversing valve that lets it also heat in the winter. For decades, these devices weren’t really an option in northern climates. They work by extracting heat from the air outside and moving it into your home. In Buffalo, heat can be hard to find in the outdoor air in winter. But in the last decade, technology has vastly improved, and heat pumps can now work efficiently even in our climate. How efficiently? Math time!

Electrical resistance heating produces 3,412 Btus of heat per every kWh of electric consumed. In a climate like Buffalo, a typical modern air-source heat pump will run with a seasonally-averaged efficiency of ~3 (COP=3) times more efficient than electrical resistance heating over the course of a winter.

1 kWh of heat pump = 3,412 x 3 =  10236 Btus of heat

The cost of electric where we are is $0.138 per kWh.

So the cost to create one thousand Btus of heat with a heat pump is $0.138/10.236 = $0.0134

Let’s put that nifty result on the whiteboard and store it for later

(Yes, Snowy Brook Farm has a whiteboard. Yes, there does appear to be a list of favorite foods on the left. Yes a story on why we have a massive whiteboard and the top 10 food list would be much more interesting than unit conversion post. In due time, friends. In due time…)

Alright, let’s do the same for propane!

1 gallon of propane burned in a 95% efficient furnace = 87,000 Btus of heat

The cost of propane where we are is $2.50 per gallon.

So the cost to create one thousand Btus of heat with a propane furnace is $2.50/87 =$0.0287

Let’s add that nifty result to the whiteboard

There you have it! $0.0134 <<<< $0.0287. At current utility prices here, switching from propane to a heat pump will more than halve your heating bill. And so that’s exactly what Snowy Brook Farm did! Well, sort of…

Tune in next week for the thrilling conclusion of The Inevitable Heat Pump Post! If you enjoy trenches, digging trenches, or looking at trenches dug by someone else, you won’t want to miss this!

My Favorite Farm photo

Hello again everyone!

I bet you all thought you were getting one update and that was it for the next three years. Well let me assure you I plan to at least do 3-4 updates before forgetting about this page, so ha!

Today’s update is an easy one. While I could post pictures of all the new chicks that hatched yesterday all bundled together with their big beady eyes and photogenic beaks, that content is already readily available on the official Snowy Brook Facebook account. To keep the website feeling like a fresh experience, I will try to create exclusive content that has a more Zachesque flair to it, while constantly pointing you, the reader, to the Snowy Brook Farm Facebook account for actual, high-quality farm content.

Instead of cute chicks, I present you with my favorite farm photo in the 4 years we’ve been doing this shindig. BEHOLD

What makes this photo so good? Is it perfectly circular eye, fully exposed, with an equally perfectly circular black bead in the middle? Could it be the beak, which has the faintest hint of a smile but also the sinister goose teeth sticking through the gaps? Perhaps it’s the feather fluff, which starts out perfectly groomed at the bottom, but gets increasingly erratic as you get to the upper neck. Or perhaps it’s just because the pose reminds me of this Chocobo from my childhood.

Whatever it is, I think we can all agree that the goose photo is without question one of the greatest photos of the modern HD era. If you plan on using it for a photo contest, I only request a credit in the acknowledgements, and a 70% royalty fee.