September 5, 2017 at 3:32 p.m.

Winter blast

By Natalie Schmitt- | Comments: 0 | Leave a comment

This week's winter blast reminded many of us what winter can really be like in the upper Midwest as arctic winds howl across the open plains creating mountains of frozen snowdrifts where the wind could not escape. Luckily the weather forecasts were correct in predicting when we would be slapped with the frigid temperatures. The early warning allowed us to clean lots and sheds before piles were cemented down until the next thaw in March. Sheds were well bedded and the animals were ready to hunker down as the temperatures plummeted 20 degrees in two hours and winds swept across the farm. They say we haven't been this cold since 2008. Of course, this is nothing compared to 1995 when we were below zero for almost a week. Now that was a cold winter.
With my New Year's goal of positive thinking, I've been trying to find the good in our cold winter weather. I've created a pro/con list about our recent weather spurt. For example, the cold weather is a great conversation starter between strangers and old friends alike. Regardless of where you live, everyone has a favorite winter story to share. The down side of this is when it becomes a contest to out winter the other.
The cold weather prompts Mark to recall what winters were like on our farm when he was a kid. It was a real chore to feed cattle in the winter. With two boys around, who needed to install silo unloaders. Every day, Mark and Al climbed the 40 foot silo to throw feed down for the outside cows. Armed with silage forks, picks, determination and strong muscles, they pushed to get the job done as quickly as possible. Once the outside chores were done, they would rush to the house to thaw out. With their backsides up against the old Jungers oil burner, they toasted their cold bodies back to life one side at a time. It is hard to out-winter Mark's stories.
Another positive aspect of the cold weather is how quickly the switch cattle move to return to their stalls and thaw out their frosted beards. The hard part about the cold weather is getting cattle out of the barn. I don't know if it is the cold temperatures or the ice pack outside that slams their forward motion into park.
The frosty weather has a beauty all its own. The morning sun sparkling off the frosted branches of barren trees is a unique work of art. I marvel at the layers of moisture frozen in place. The trees almost look like giant snow crystals. Another thing of beauty and danger are the ice glaciers surrounding the Ritchie waterers. As heated water drips and dibbles from the heifers' muzzles, each drop is frozen upon the previous creating an ice sculpture. With the precision of a gymnast on a balance beam, the heifers find a sure footing as they lap up a drink of water. Since we have picks around the farm from Mark's younger days, we put them to work breaking up the glaciers with new young backs and muscles. We don't want to rob our children of wonderful childhood stories with complete mechanization.
Of course, the cold temperatures mean layers upon layers of warm clothing to keep the winds at bay and protect our bottom sides when we slip on the ice. As we waddle across the yard with three pairs of pants and/or coveralls and three shirts under winter farm coats, we look like the Michelin tire guy. While the layers keep us warm, they do restrict our movements. It is challenging to lift my leg high enough to reach the next rung on our homemade ladder to the haybarn to throw down hay and straw. At least I'm blaming my lack of mobility on the layering and not the fact that I am getting older and less limber. The best thing about wearing winter layers is when you take them off. Just shedding the layers makes you feel like you've dropped 10 pounds without giving up chocolate. What a great self-esteem booster.
It seems inside the house is the place to be as the temperatures plummet outside. The cold weather pushes everyone inside once the outside chores are done. Since we don't heat the house with an old oil burner, the warmest place in the house everyone scrambles for is the living room floor. The warm winter sun streams through the tall southern windows heating the floor and everyone in its rays. You don't feel guilty taking a nap on the floor. It feels like a dream vacation on a Hawaiian beach without sand in your swimsuit.
Because the sun warms the living room, I am able to keep our thermostat at a lower setting. The kids complain that our house is too cold. We tell them shorts and t-shirts are summer clothing, while sweatpants, sweatshirts and thick warm socks are the attire for winter. I'm sure once they live on their own and have heating bills to pay, their thermostat settings will be set lower as well. Besides, the cold weather makes the house feel warmer. In the evening, we are the last ones to find shelter. Once the sheds are opened up for the heifers to escape the winter winds and switch cows are locked in for the evening, we rush to the house seeking warmth. We are greeted at the door with what feels like a tropical blast of hot air. The change in temperature is almost suffocating. It is amazing how warm 66 degrees can feel.
Winter weather in the upper Midwest can be challenging but there are still many things to be thankful for. Thinsulate, thermal teck gear, Sorrel boots, insulated coveralls, warm gloves and stocking hats from AI organizations. Take time to find the beauty and wonder of the cold weather, even when you're creating your own winter weather survival stories.
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