It had been snowing, cold, and blustery for days when we made the call. We were bedding calf pens as fast as we could, but the number of calves due that week was double what we usually expected. The temperatures were dropping as fast as our firewood supply, and we could barely keep our winter layers hanging by the fire long enough to dry before we put them back on. We all had a case of the winter blues.
So, when the sun came out and the wind died down, there was only one logical thing to do.
That day would be a sledding day.
A few times a year, when the weather is just right and the snow has gotten us down, my family gets together, treks up our biggest hill with sleds in hand, and sees how many times we can go up and down the monster drumlin that sits in our backfield.
If you’re unfamiliar with glacial drumlins, you’re not alone. Caused by the same glacial movement that created the great lakes, glacial drumlins are large hills that have a teardrop shape to them. One side is very steep, the other elongated. In Central New York, there is a small stretch between Lake Ontario and Cayuga Lake that is full of them, and our farm sits right in the middle.
There’s a lot of downsides to farming where we do when you look at it from a land-based perspective. There are no large square fields or even ground that lacks mud holes or wet spots. When it comes time to work the fields, several of them contain these drumlins, which, if you aren’t thoroughly experienced, can be dangerous to plow or plant.
They’re great for sledding, though.
We start the day by helping my family split firewood, and then everyone makes the climb to the top. Aunts, uncles, and cousins join, because what better outdoor, socially distant activity is there than sledding?
It may seem childish, and you might find yourself thinking, “I’m an adult who has to spend 95% of my time outside in the cold already, why would I spend my leisure time there, too?”
Sometimes letting our childish side out to play for a few hours can do wonders. No matter how old you are, the exhilaration of sliding down a slippery slope of ice and snow, in our case often followed by a parade of little kids and dogs, is just what the doctor ordered. Even if you wipe out or hit a bump, you hear cheering from the top of the hill as you march back up, just to do it all over again.
The past 12 months have been hard. Dairy farming under normal circumstances is trying, and doing so in the midst of winter, in the throes of a pandemic, can get you down. Frankly, doing anything in the depths of both winter and a pandemic can get you down.
Sledding may seem rudimentary, but sometimes that kind of fun is exactly what you need to get back on your feet to keep climbing up the hill that is in front of all of us. Sometimes a little bit of sledding can help to cure a case of the winter blues.
Abbie Cox grew up in Cato, N.Y. on a first-generation dairy farm and currently attends Cornell University as a member of the class of 2021, majoring in animal science with a minor in education and a focus in dairy. On campus, she is involved with the Cornell University Dairy Science Club, Sigma Alpha, Collegiate Farm Bureau, and is a Peer Adviser with CALS Student Services. Cox has interned with the MILC group, the Animal Agriculture Alliance, and was the 2020 Hoard’s Dairyman summer editorial intern.