From the farm: I'm tired of ice; bring on the mud

Snow cover on a cow indicates that the animal is well insulated. A Scottish Highlander’s double-thick hair is the perfect insulator in freezing weather.

Snow cover on a cow indicates that the animal is well insulated. A Scottish Highlander’s double-thick hair is the perfect insulator in freezing weather. CAROLE SOULE / For the Monitor

Published: 01-27-2024 3:00 PM

The plastic wrap on the huge hay bale was frozen, and so were my fingers. I had removed my gloves to use my knife to slice the wrap, and now my fingers hurt. Husband Bruce got out of the Mahindra tractor to help me, the one-woman ground crew, release the 1,000-pound round bale from its plastic wrap and feed it to the cattle. In a prolonged arctic blast, the cattle need hay, lots of hay, to generate energy and stay warm.

Besides food, livestock need water to survive cold temperatures, so we’re checking water when we aren’t feeding hay. Cattle don’t need as much water in winter as in summer, but they must drink enough to digest the extra hay.

When the temperatures stay frigid for so long, even water heaters can’t thaw freezing water. We check three troughs at least twice a day, and sometimes, after I break up the ice, I heat the water with “The Salamander.” That’s the brand name of our kerosene-burning heater, but it amuses me to call it by name as if an exotic creature is being called in to help my cows.

I check the cattle daily, mostly the young stock, for shivering. If a calf is shivering, it needs help. Adult cattle with plenty of food and water can handle the cold, but I still check them for shivering or odd behavior. Cows that don’t show interest in food or separate themselves from the herd can be in trouble even if they are not shivering. So far this year, I haven’t seen any shivering cows or calves, but I’ve felt the cold!

Encouragement is needed, and when the bitter cold seems never-ending, here comes Groundhog Day! Feb. 2 is midway between the winter solstice and the vernal equinox. It’s when groundhogs supposedly emerge from their burrows, and if the weather is sunny and they are frightened by their shadows, they dive back into their holes, and winter persists for six more weeks. It’s a Pennsylvania Dutch superstition. Over the years, Punxsutawney Phil has become the celebrity groundhog, and all eyes are on him.

For farmers with critters to feed, Feb. 2 has great significance in the adage: “Half your hay by Ground Hog Day,” meaning if you’ve used more than half your hay, you will probably run out. We are right on schedule.

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Miles Smith Farm is surviving the winter, but here’s hoping Punxsutawney Phil forecasts an early spring. Slogging through the early spring mud seems like more fun than dancing with ice.

Coach Carole’s Words of Wisdom: Don’t worry about what you can’t change. Embrace happiness even if it means dancing with ice.

This is a revised version of a column that previously ran in 2022.

Carole Soule is co-owner of Miles Smith Farm (www.milessmithfarm.com), where she raises and sells beef, pork, eggs, and other local products. She can be reached at carolesoule60@gmail.com. Carole also coaches humans, helping them achieve the impossible one step at a time.