Are you snowed in or are you snowed out? If you are a dairy farmer, the odds are high that you are more likely to be snowed out. When it is snowing, farmers are usually out in the storm, trying to get equipment running, keeping milk trucks on schedule, and making sure animals are fed, watered, and bedded. During a snowstorm, this is an overtime job.

Marilyn Hershey

For dairy families, snow days do not mean sitting inside, drinking hot chocolate, and looking out the window admiring the snow as it peacefully falls to the ground. We have an occupation that requires a lot of moving parts, and snow interferes with the day-to-day operations that need to happen.

I chuckle when I hear people talk about wishing for a blizzard and the opportunity to be snowed in. Snowstorms mean something totally different for us. We never know what obstacles that a snowstorm may bring. We hold our breath that the water bowl heaters work, that the roads are cleared on time, and that all the employees can get to their next shift.

I remember blizzards that accumulated a foot or more of snow followed by high winds. It was a time-consuming mess. The calves themselves were fine, as they were warm and dry in the hutches. But getting milk, water, and fresh bedding to them was the hurdle. While we were creating a path and finding the best way to maneuver through the drift, we were also wrangling the calves that discovered climbing a snow drift was their only obstacle to freedom.

Aside from the animals, keeping the milk truck on schedule is always a high priority and a challenge. There is a schedule to keep at both the milk plant and the farm, but during a storm, the priority shifts to enabling the truck to reach the farm and get back on the main roads. This one chore alone can turn into an all-day focus when the tank is nearly full and so are the roads.

Maybe this is why you rarely hear a farmer say that they are excited about an upcoming snowstorm. Snow adds a lot to a farmer’s day.

I remember a particular blizzard that happened years ago. It was a record storm, and there were many discussions about this storm being the worst in history. I was not around for the first record-breaking snow in the 1950s, but I was around for this one and I do know, record or not, it was a lot of snow and a lot of work.

Waking at 3:30 a.m. and trying to figure out how I could safely make it up the hill to the barn was my first task. I checked on the bull calves and made sure they were all okay and that the heat light was still working. Then I cut through the maternity barn to get a bit closer to the top of the hill. The next leg of the journey was the most difficult. I had to walk through huge drifts to get to the barn. I was exhausted before I even started feeding calves.

The day was long but we pulled in all hands available to get the work done. There was an amazing attitude throughout the day. Everyone wanted to chip in and make sure that the animals were cared for. We even had a couple employees spend the night to make sure they could be there in the morning.

We have a reputation for picking up employees if they are stuck at home due to snow. Sometimes we will even run the tractor and the blade or the payloader down the road to help them get to the farm.

One snowstorm included gale-like winds, and the roads were closed more than they were cleared. There were employees that did not have vehicles that could make it under these conditions, so Duane and I spent part of the day driving our large four-wheel drive vehicle to pick up employees so they could make it for their shift. That was the fun part of the snowstorm, and thankfully, I conquered the snow drifts.

This was the same snowstorm that the milk truck followed the tractor and blade to the main road as the mirrors on the truck were scraping against the drifts. Thankfully, storms of that magnitude are not an everyday occurrence.

In spite of the work, I have to admit that snow is beautiful as it sets over the ground and trees. Snow is also fun for those who have the time and energy to play in it. I remember the work growing up on our farm, but I also remember how fun it was to go sledding down the hills, hoping that I could get a few good runs in before my father put cinders on the driveway for the milk truck.

We had a steep hill, and it was perfect to go sledding. The ultimate fun was when we made it to the bridge, which was most of the way down the long lane. That was a good run and not one I accomplished often, but the thrill was still real. Now I can watch my grandchildren have fun sledding down the hill, and the excitement on their faces is worth the extra effort. At the end of the day, I am still much happier being snowed out than snowed in.