Free concrete

They say nothing is free, but then, maybe those people never lived in Minnesota.
For anywhere from four to seven months of the year, our soil magically turns to concrete. This is handy if you don’t have quite enough concrete to keep all the critters and feed out of the mud. Just wait for November or December to roll around, and suddenly, mud problems disappear as the freezing temperatures blow in. For free, your whole farm has turned to one giant, quite hard, concrete-like surface.
I dislike mud. Partly, I dislike it because we store feed in bags, and feeding out of bags when it’s muddy is a nightmare. Partly, I dislike mud because we are a grazing farm, and half the year, the cows are in the pastures harvesting their own food and spreading their own manure which means they do a lot of walking down paths to get to the pastures. Those paths are not fun for us or the cows when it’s muddy. Also, on a farm where the cattle have no reason to be in a barn most of the year, the facilities tend to be a bit conservatively sized. No sense in spending money on barns no one is in most of the year. Free concrete solves both those problems.
Manure handling is a time-consuming task especially if you don’t have a manure pit to just squeegee the poo into. I know, for people with liquid manure systems, frozen manure chunks are a pain and create extra work, but for me, frozen manure is a blessing. We clean our freestall twice a day, and it takes entirely too much time. Regularly, we’re scooping up half-full buckets of sloppy manure that splatters on everything when dumped in the spreader. When it’s cold though, I can scoop big full buckets of now semi-solid manure and pile five days’ worth of manure where usually I can only fit one to two days’ worth. Another bonus is we can load the frozen manure in our dump wagon and pile it in a field to be hauled on the fields or pastures when the snow melts off, and the nutrients will actually stay where we put them. It’s crazy, but the inside of that pile will still have chunks of snow in it when we haul it in April or May, sometimes even June.
From when I started writing this article to my finishing it, the temperature has swung from 20 degrees below zero to 30 above. No more frozen manure but at least the ground is still nice and hard. Soon though, the sun will be out long enough to get some warmth going and we’ll transition to spring. Here’s hoping the mud season will be short and the grass starts growing early. After the drought we had last summer, and also the previous summer, feed supplies are pretty tight around here. We could use an early spring even if it means the free concrete melts and we have to deal with mud.
Speaking of big temperature swings, Emily and I are headed to a much warmer and more mountainous country for a week. It seems based on the weather forecasts we’ve been following that it has been raining there constantly and probably will be when we are there too. Even if it’s muddy, I’m pretty sure we’ll enjoy the trip. Hopefully our Spanish-speaking skills will be good enough to chat with some of the dairy farmers there. Look forward to an article in the future about dairying in a different part of the world. In the meantime, you’ll have to guess where we’re headed.
Until next time, keep living the dream, and don’t put away those insulated Carhartt overalls. Winter cold probably isn’t over yet. It’s just taking a little vacation for a week.
    Tim Zweber farms with his wife, Emily, their three children and his parents, Jon and Lisa, near Elko, Minnesota.


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