An insider’s peek at Winter on the farm
January 16, 2024
It sure has been a surprisingly warm fall and winter. The few frosts have been so light that even fairly tender annual flowers, like the nasturtiums and calendula, have still been green and even blooming in the garden. So, last week when I saw the weather forecast, I quickly picked one last sunny calendula to brighten up my windowsill.
Over the weekend I was glad to have this lovely remembrance of how fortunate we were with the weather to this point. I know we need the snow in the mountains and the cold serves its purpose, too. But as livestock farmers we sure are pleased when it’s warm.
Yes, it’s been unseasonably warm.
Until now, that is.
Of course, the Farmhands were ecstatic to see the snow start to fall on Thursday night, and they were even happier to realize it was so cold the snow was going to last. And that Eli was going to get to miss a day of school.
You see, Farmhand Eli vividly remembers a year where we only had snow once, and all 1 inch of it lasted for a total of 2 measly hours.
His momma keenly remembers that year as well, because Farmhand Vera was a baby and I really didn’t want to go out in the cold with her. But the weather forecast made it fairly clear that the snow wasn’t sticking around, and little Eli was sooooo excited that I bundled the baby up in the backpack and out we went to play. Baby Vera fussed in the cold, but she and her momma survived - and big brother Eli had a blast.
That day has become a notorious memory for Eli. He is keenly aware that he nearly missed out on the snow that year all together, and he dearly loves playing in the snow. And he passed that concern on to Vera. So on Thursday night, with the snow still falling, the moment Eli stepped off the school bus the big kids were bundled up and out the door to play. “What if it all melts tonight?!” they worried. They didn’t really believe me when I said it was going to be too cold to melt.
Before the sun went down, Farmhand Vera filled our yard with adorable snow angels.
And Farmhand Eli pummeled all of our windows with snowballs. That’s where this momma likes to be in a snowball fight – on the other side of glass :)
The Farmers, on the other hand, were rather less thrilled by the weather forecast. Snow in itself isn’t so bad . But with hundreds of animals to keep watered, an extended cold snap truly is something to dread. A few days of 32 degrees is a bother with draining hoses every night, but temps in the teens and low twenties for days on end is flat out no fun.
After hardly any time at all, the ice Martin was chopping out of the cows’ water troughs was over 4” deep.
At this point it’s an understatement to say we’re rather glad to see things warming up, as it will drastically lighten the load of chores. I honestly didn’t see Farmer Martin much for four days, as he spent most of the daylight hours outside, trying to keep water to the animals.
On the farm, as with most of life, some eventualities we can learn from and plan ahead better for next time, and some we can’t see coming and just have to solve as they come. We live in a climate that does freeze every year, so we prepare for that by doing things like installing frost-free hydrants. And then those frost-free hydrants freeze solid. On to plan B…carrying bucket after bucket of water. Tractor engines don’t really like to start when it’s that cold, either.
It was definitely a rough couple of days, especially for Farmer Martin, but thanks to his hard work all the livestock made it through unscathed. And it wasn’t all bad, of course.
In looking back at my photos from the last week, I found some fun images to share with you.
I know you enjoy seeing what goes on behind the scenes on the farm because you value the connection to where your food comes from.
And we very much appreciate that relationship with you, as well. It keeps us going during trying times, like when temps drop into the teens.
Because we know that the outcome on the other side of the trial is worth it - growing Honestly Good Food for people we care about.
So here’s some more fun ones.
Guardian dog Tillie LOVES the snow. It is so fun to watch her joyfully charging around in the falling snow, rolling in it, digging in it, and in general having as much fun as the Farmhands. Her mountain-bred heritage shines through as much as her guardian instincts.
You can see the chickens actually don’t mind the snow either. Once it stopped falling and warmed up a tad in the sun, they were back out of their shelter, pecking and scratching as usual.
That’s not to say that our second chicken flock isn’t just as happy to be cozied up in the hoop house for the winter.
Farmer Martin backs the famous Ritz Cluck-Inn chicken shelter into the hoop house. This lets the girls roam inside, scratching and pecking through deep woodchips, safely sheltered from icy winds.
Especially when the sun comes out, it also makes a nice place for the people to be. Farmhand Grace particularly likes to wander in amongst the chickens. She checks on their feeders and follows them around, watching, observing, and learning about the chicken-ness of a chicken.
The chickens have their protected shelters and they roost together for warmth at night, but that doesn’t do much to protect the eggs.
During the cold snap, we gathered eggs extra times each day to prevent them from freezing. And we did manage to save most of them. But the eggs that were laid after our last gathering of the night, or very first thing in the pre-dawn hours, didn’t stand a chance at 15 degrees.
We won’t be putting any of those in this week’s cartons. Haha. Luckily, they’re still perfectly fine to eat and we like eating eggs. In fact, I used some of these to make the Farmhands one of their favorite treats – Dutch Babies (German Pancakes) for dinner.
And what would a snow day be without some sledding? We don’t have any good hills on this farm, and the bigger Farmhands are getting awfully heavy to pull around (especially when they want you to run)! So they came up with an ingenious idea. Sledding down the compost pile! Hahaha.
It’s short, but it’s fast! You know, there are lots of books on the market touting the many benefits of making compost. But I bet none of them include the use of the pile as a sledding hill. Maybe I’d better write my own composting book…
You know, sledding is thirsty work. And with all that snow around, there’s no reason to waste time walking back to the house for a drink (and remember all the hose bibs are frozen up). So you might as well eat snow.
Just don’t think about the fact that you’re eating snow out of a pasture on an active livestock farm. Luckily it was so cold that anything possibly unsanitary that’s under the snow is also frozen. Besides, they say germs are good for you :)
Here’s one last smile for you from Farmhand Grace.
She’s about to turn two and since she doesn’t remember last year’s snow this was all a new experience for her. She flat out refused to put on a snowsuit, or gloves for that matter, but she had the best time walking around and enjoying the novelty.
I sure wish I’d managed to take a picture of Martin all bundled up on the coldest mornings – that probably would have told the story best of all.
But he had on so many clothes you wouldn’t have recognized him anyway. Haha
Well, here’s to a warmer week ahead!
I know it’s all about to turn to mud with its own problems, but at least the eggs won’t be frozen.
See you there!