When 9 degrees feels balmy…

snowy pasture

Weather has been strange and challenging for at least the last 14 months. Rain has been a constant challenge year around. Our recent dance with a polar vortex brought wind chills lower than most of us can remember, followed by ridiculously warm weather a few days later. 

Then more rain. 

I do not believe anyone is particularly enjoying this weather; it is hard on people and animals. As I was looking through some old columns, this one caught my eye. Seems that 15 years ago, the winter of 2004 was a little more consistently cold which created its own set of problems… 

How cold is it?

It is so cold that a calf feeder had to switch from metal buckets to plastic buckets because the calves’ noses froze to the bottom of the milk bucket if they didn’t pull their heads out the second they hit bottom… 

While a slight exaggeration, this truly is a challenging winter for people who work outdoors. You know it has been too cold for too long on a dairy farm when: 

Frost-free waterers gave up that status about two weeks ago and now produce snow cones. 

Throat clearance height on water tanks is 5 inches higher (ice) than it is in June since cows feel compelled to drool that last mouthful of water on the edge of the tank instead of swallowing it. 

The three new “igloo” hutches really are igloos… made out of all the half-bucket chunks of ice that get knocked out of water buckets twice a day. 

You get “hot” in your work clothes when the temperature is above 20. 

Milkers no longer ask if they should blot the cow’s teats dry before letting them out, they just do it.

You swear you will never breed a cow or heifer (especially a heifer) in March, April or May ever again. 

“Please let everything work/start/run tomorrow” becomes part of your evening prayers. 

No big towels or extra blankets are in the house because they all migrated out to the barn to dry off and warm up newborn calves. Ditto for the hairdryer.

$300 for a closed-circuit TV system between the house and the calving pen starts looking like a bargain at 1 a.m. with a -10 wind chill. 

The calf feeder gets really excited when the temperature hits 35 degrees and the water buckets didn’t freeze between feedings. 

No one has to go looking for extension cords — they know they are all on the tractors, the skid loaders, the heat lamps… 

Everyone has ungracefully landed on their behind at least once. 

You are happy that you bed stalls with sand because you have a big pile of it to spread on the farm drives so the feed and milk trucks can get in and out. Your driveway will look like Myrtle Beach when it finally thaws. 

Bedded packs are easy to clean. Just wear steel-toed boots and kick the freeze-dried pies off (paperweights anyone?).

You have an overwhelming urge to strangle anyone who ever said “…cows don’t need to be warm; they need to be clean, dry and comfortable…”

And you really know it has been too cold, too long when it hits 30 degrees and you seriously start worrying about heat stress on the cows.

• • •

While we haven’t had to worry about the above situations for extended periods so far this winter, the few days of polar vortex temperatures do quickly change our perception of cold. The morning after a particularly cold day last week, I thought it seemed pretty warm when I went outside. It was 9º. 

Keep warm and stay safe.


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