WOOSTER, Ohio — Cold winter weather can mean a lot of things to different people. For some, it’s the canceling of school or work, the signal to head south to enjoy the sunshine, or a good excuse to stay inside and relax — maybe watch some television, read or sleep.
There’s nothing wrong with any of these, but for the active farmers in our region, cold weather is no deterrent to the daily chores that must be done.
This past week, it’s been about as cold as its been this winter, with daytime temperatures only in the 20s. Reporters at Farm and Dairy caught up with a few farmers and related industries to see how they were weathering the conditions.
Snow-covered roads and snow drifts hanging from the eaves of roofs defined the small rural town of Kidron, Ohio, on Jan. 7.
It was auction day at Kidron Auction Barn, where a bundled-up group of farmers cast bids on pickup loads of hay and straw in the morning. Meanwhile, livestock were being unloaded for the livestock sale, exiting cold, metal trailers, and open wood carts of the Amish.
Gary Stone and his son, Spencer, brought a load of straw from Fremont, Ohio — a more than two-hour trek.
Stone said he makes the long commute because there are fewer livestock farmers in his part of the state, which means less demand for hay and straw.
He said anything below 15 is a cold winter.
“Really, it’s been a very nice winter,” he said. “It’s what it is here in January.”
His worst winter was the blizzard of 1978, when most people were “pinned down” for days. He remembers feeling relieved because he had a four-wheel drive tractor, but later found the snow was so high he couldn’t even back the tractor out of the shed.
The blizzard years of the late 1970s were also on the mind of Darrel Zuercher, a part-owner of L. E. Sommer & Sons — the feed mill just across the street from the sale barn.
Zuercher said conditions were so bad the company shifted its focus to delivering just enough feed to get farmers by for a day or two. The company had two four-wheel drive pickups, he recalled, and used them to deliver bagged feed of lesser amounts than the usual four- or six-ton delivery.
“People like ourselves, we have to go out every day,” he said. “It’s not like we can just (decide) not to go today. It’s just a matter of slowing down, taking your time and being careful.”
One big change is that today, drivers have radios and cell phones to communicate their progress, where as before, “you didn’t know where he was going, when he was going to be back, (or) if he was having a problem out there,” Zuercher said.
Tim Krieg, a dairy and crop farmer from Andover, Ohio, said conditions could be a lot worse.
His farm plans ahead for severe weather, he said, adding they work to ensure there is little direct outside manual labor.
“Planning ahead really helps,” he said.
Krieg said the farm has made big investments in the last 15 years and now is reaping the benefits.
“Modernizing has helped. Improving the facilities has helped out tremendously,” he said.
Bunker silos, drive-through barns and tractors with cabs on them all help make the wintry weather a little more livable for Krieg.
He said the cattle seem to thrive in the cold weather compared to the hot weather, making the whole situation a little more tolerable.
“Unless we get frozen water lines, then we can’t complain,” he said. “After all, there is no sense in it.”
At Smith Dairy in Orrville, Distribution Manager Dale Gray was hoping for some plowed roads, and equally important, plowed parking lots. Gray said his drivers need to be able to get where they’re going, but be able to traverse the properties once they arrive.
On his end, Gray keeps diesel trucks plugged into the electric, for easy starts, and keeps an eye on the temperature regulators that regulate the temperature of the product being hauled.
“It’s all in the dress,” added Butch Mumaw, who’s driven truck for Smith Dairy for more than 30 years. Extra clothes help keep him warm, even during the night shift.
Of course, no dairy or livestock farm could produce in cold weather if not for the host of veterinarians, who rely on large pickups and a lot of preparation to keep herds healthy.
Veterinarian Imre Orosz, of Wellington Veterinary Clinic in Ohio’s Lorain County, said dairies often deal with frozen water and pipes during cold spells, and may try to decrease wind through barns by closing side curtains.
He advises that ventilation is necessary, but to avoid setups that create wind or draft.
Orosz prepares by dressing in extra layers, and prioritizing. The worse winter he remembers was in 1993-1994, when he had to travel to Urbana, Ohio, in minus-20 wind chills.
In the worst of conditions, service becomes a matter of, “If it isn’t dying, you deal with it another day,” he said.