The author and her husband, Duane, own and operate a 550-cow dairy in Cochranville, Pa.Cold air has settled into the area. I am not referring to a little chill in the air; I am talking about the extreme cold that blows through every article of clothing and settles in our bones. It is the cold that makes everything on the farm flow slower — the employees, the manure system, and the water lines.
Water is essential when working with animals. Making sure they have an adequate source of water is a critical component of their ration.
When the temperature is below freezing, it challenges us and adds stress to that daily task. Typically, we have fair warning and can make sure that all of the heaters for our water bowls are working before the cold hits. Every once in a while, though, the cold weather blindsides us, and the buildup of ice becomes a serious and time consuming problem.
One place this is particularly problematic is in the calf hutches. We use buckets for our calves, and this is a challenge when the water freezes, especially overnight. When this happens before implementing our extreme cold weather protocols, we have a lot of buckets to pound ice out of in the morning. There is a skill to pounding ice out of a bucket without breaking it, but whether using my boot or a tool, it’s not a skill on my list.
The same goes for water troughs in the heifer barns if the heater is not working and their water becomes a block of ice. The heifers are good at alerting us when this happens, but it adds a new set of chores for the day.
It takes a lot more time to chop ice out of buckets and bowls and tediously thaw water lines than it does to be proactive and stay ahead of the extreme weather. Winter preparation is the key to survival.
My dairy farming friends in New Mexico and Texas got caught a year or two ago when a cold snap came through their area. This is unusual in that part of the country. Even though they had warning, there was not enough time to get everything ready because their equipment, housing, and water lines are not set up for a deep freeze.
Preparing equipment and barns is not the only thing that we need to do to be ready. We need to make sure we have the proper clothing for the day. When it is freezing cold, temperatures are way below our comfort level, but we still need to work outside and take care of the animals.
The animals are fine; their thick hair keeps them comfortable and happy if they have dry bedding, fresh feed, and water. But they still need care, and those who work with them need to make sure we have the proper clothing to be comfortable.
Over the years, I have come to appreciate certain overalls, coats, and boots that do a great job of keeping me warm in the elements. If my core and my feet are toasty, it is not so bad being outside in the cold air. Quite honestly, I prefer fresh air to being stuffy and hot.
Since our son is in the Army, we visit a military base every once in a while. During one visit, he was stationed in Watertown, N.Y. This base is known for its cold weather training, so they know how to deal with winter weather.
While visiting the military store for him, I also picked up a piece of gear. I got a military grade hat that fits over my head and neck with an adjustable band to make sure the wind stays out. This is a difference maker for me when I am outside in the winter.
When I have the proper gear, I can face the cold. However, there are problems when I leave the farm and do not have my cold weather attire.
I recently went to a meeting in New York City. When I left home, I did not take into consideration that it was a cold, raw winter day. I enjoy visiting the city from time to time and I like walking the streets, so it was not unusual for me to leave the train station and decide to walk the 2 miles to the hotel as opposed to taking a taxi. Shortly after leaving the train station, though, I questioned my decision. The sun was hidden behind the clouds, the wind whipped through the streets, and the air cut right through my layers.
I could have done much better with my coat selection. Even though I had a hat and a scarf, the coat was just not enough to keep the cold wind out of my bones. If there would have been a street vendor selling Carhartts, I would have acquired yet another jacket like the several we have at home. I may have even bought another pair of coveralls, but there were none to be found, so until I got to the hotel, my bones were shivering.
No doubt, we have a lot of cold days and nights left until spring arrives. Whether I am in the city or on the farm, I obviously need to be prepared for wintertime.