An Old Fashioned Winter

 “The winds came down from mountains cold and like a tide it roared and rolled; and branches groaned, the forest moaned, and leaves were laid upon the mould. The wind went on from West to East; all movement in the forest ceased, but shrill and harsh across the marsh its whistling voices were released. It left the world and took its flight over the wide seas of the night. The moon set sail upon the gale, and stars were fanned to leaping light.”

The Hobbit by J.R.R. Tolkien

Buried in the snow
Buried in the snow

The past several years we’ve had fairly easy winters. Of course, living in western New York will never be the Bahamas, but for several years it hasn’t been that bad, that is, until this winter. This time we were hit with a polar vortex, stinging cold, several-feet-at-a-time, good old fashioned winter! Temperatures were below 0 for weeks at a time and we were blasted with blizzards and wind. My journal entries frequently sounded like this one from January 7th: “Very cold again. This morning it was -14 with a wind chill of -42! Can hear the wind moaning outside.”

A picture I took of the thermometer one morning before going out to do chores. -13!

People often ask me what we do on the farm during the winter. True, there are no fields to till or crops to harvest, but there are plenty of other things to keep us busy! Besides the standard cow care that we do every day (feeding, milking, cleaning barn, etc.) there’s also plowing snow (lots!), unfreezing pipes, fixing equipment, unfreezing equipment, etc. Tasks that we perform every day become difficult when compounded with snow, sub-zero temperatures and driving winds.

For example, we clean our milking cow barn 3 times a day. The manure is scraped into a spreader and applied to our fields as a natural fertilizer. We use a CAT Challenger tractor with tracks instead of wheels to pull the spreader. Normally you just jump into the tractor and drive to the field, but on really cold days the drive wheels of the tracks can freeze. That means you have to thaw out the wheels before you can go anywhere.

Dad unfreezing the tractor's tracks
Dad unfreezing the CAT Challenger’s  tracks with hot water


Another job that can be tricky in the winter is cleaning the heifer barn. All of our other barns can be cleaned with a tractor or skid loader, except for one of our heifer barns. It’s an older style barn with a gutter (trough) in the floor. The manure has to be scraped by hand into the gutter twice a day. There are paddles in the gutter attached to a chain that scrape the manure out of the gutter and dump it into the spreader. In the winter sometimes frozen manure can cause the chain to pop out of the gutter, which takes a while to fix. I helped Dad fix it one day and snapped some pics of him with my phone.

Dad used the come-a-long to ratchet the chain so there would be enough slack to put it back in the gutter
Dad used the come-a-long to ratchet the chain so there would be enough slack to put it back in the gutter


fixing the gutter 2



Dad climbing up the chute
Dad cleaning out the frozen chute
You can't tell from the pictures, but it's actually snowing and blowing pretty hard
You can’t tell from the pictures, but it’s actually snowing and blowing pretty hard

Thankfully, cows do pretty good in the cold. As long as they have shelter, high quality feed, and are clean and dry they do fine. Most cows actually prefer cooler weather to the hot, humid summer.

Since calves are babies they require extra attention in the winter. When it’s cold we give them deep and fluffy bedding that they can “nestle” in and blankets or coats to keep them warm. We closely watch that they are eating enough so they can maintain their body heat and make sure that their buckets stay unfroze.

One of calves warm with her blanket and straw bedding
One of calves warm with her blanket and straw bedding

Of course we have plenty of fun in the winter also! One of my favorite cold weather activities is snow shoeing. This year I snow-shoed over to our neighbor’s house several times to shoot my recurve bow. Living on a farm also means you always have the perfect sledding hills!

Addie sledding
Addie sledding
Little brother Mason having fun
Little brother Mason having fun

sledding 2013-14

Sledding with Emily (you can see more pics at her blog here!)
Sledding with Emily (you can see more pics at her blog here!)

We even built an igloo this year!



I hope you all were able to keep warm! Even though it can be challenging, I don’t mind winter. I love the activities you can only do this time of the year and the hushed white beauty of the snow. Even the howling wind makes me feel warm and comfortable when I’m snug in bed. It reminds me of Little House in the Big Woods by Laura Ingalls Wilder:

“The first snow came, and the bitter cold…The snow kept coming till it was drifted and banked against the house. In the mornings the window panes were covered with frost in beautiful pictures of trees and flowers and fairies…They were cozy and comfortable in their little house made of logs, with the snow drifted around it and the wind crying because it could not get in by the fire.”

What is the most challenging part of winter for you? What do you do for fun?


-The Farming Daughter


2 thoughts on “An Old Fashioned Winter

  1. Winter for us is a reprieve from the long, miserable, hot, humid summers! I enjoy your winter pics and it brings back fond memories, but I think my blood is a little too thin for that kind of cold! 🙂 My chicks don’t even need a heat lamp!

  2. Wow, I forgot how amazing a writer Tolkien was. Sledding and building that igloo looks like so much fun!

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