“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
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.”
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.
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.
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.
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!
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