Mother Nature has turned fall into winter in the blink of an eye and the snap of some icy cold winds. The preparations for the weather have been made in haste around the farm. There hasn’t been a lot of down time between harvest cycles. Fourth crop hay ran into the start of corn chopping, and by the time we finished corn silage (nearly a month later) we were days away from the start of combining high moisture corn. On days when the guys couldn’t get to the fields, garage doors were hung, curtains put up, hoses put away, and the sure-fire sign of wicked days to come arrived: a pile of salt/sand mix for the driveways.
    Warm clothes were retrieved from their storage containers, examined, and with a deep breath of acceptance of our weather, hung up. Despite my best efforts, the boys will tell me they can’t find them, or they don’t like that coat for ridiculous reasons. Cora is less particular; she’s wearing her winter layers daily now without complaint. She wears warm tights (with feet, which has been the base layer for all my children), pants, snowpants, and no less than two shirts and a thick coat. Convincing her to keep her mittens on is less of a challenge than last year, but still a fight when she wants to suck her thumb.
    There has been the common sight of a season specific dance move around the barn as of late. I refer to it as the “Winter Wiggle.” It is that jig one does when they are trying to maneuver their warm layers of clothing back to where they belong. Underneath layers of bib overalls and multiple sweatshirts, the base layers seem to readjust themselves as chores wear on. For me personally, my fleece tights pull my unmentionables down to a point where I contemplate snapping suspenders on them or going without. At the same time, my tank top and long john shirt are climbing up. Such a quandary it is. I blame part of my issues on carrying a wiggly Cora on my hip – and her constant reaching to touch the cows exacerbates the problem.
    When the barn starts to develop ice patches, my paranoia of having a down cow starts to set in. If I could carry a bag of sand on my back to put on slippery spots I find, I would. I am always on the lookout for danger zones, and do my best to prevent injuries. I know that I can’t prevent them all, but if I can keep a weak hospital cow from slipping on the ice outside the parlor door, then hallelujah. The temperatures in the barn have also put a pre-winter job on hold—cleaning water tanks. Strange as it may be, I enjoy this job. It is the epitome of instant gratification. You start and the water tank is filled with slime and cud. Ten minutes later it is filling up with fresh, clean water for some appreciative cows. I can’t risk turning the pens into ice skating rinks, so the tanks must wait for the mercury to rise.
    The calving pen is quiet this month, as the cows are gearing up for the holiday season. We only expect about 70 calves this month, compared to over 100 a month for December, January and February. It is as close to a vacation as we get in the freshening area. Our gorgeous heifers that spent their summer on pasture are eating heartily in preparation for their next role in life: calving and making milk.
    There are many corn fields still standing around here. The snow, mud, rain and moisture levels are putting the pause on combine jobs. This can be seen as a challenge or a benefit to those donning the blaze orange this weekend. There are the hunters who have been tracking the movements of a specific antlered beast via trail camera photos. They note what time of day he is likely to be where, if he is by himself, and if they have pictures of him from previous years. They use phone apps to see what the wind is like to decide which of their multiple stands they should sit in. I am married to one of these hunters, and have a few related to me. It can be quite the investigation, as they make educated choices about where to stalk their buck. Then, there are the hunters who roll in to their designated location Friday afternoon, attempt to sneak into the woods as if the deer aren’t aware of their presence, and tidy up their deer stand from a year’s worth of mouse habitation. I am not sure that one tactic exceeds another when the woods are full of gun-toting, orange-clad Wisconsinites searching for “Da Turdy Point Buck.” The deer seem flustered enough to guarantee a few will run into a bullet. Though it’s been a few years since I’ve hunted, I still get swept up in the excitement, and love the chance to visit with family members.
    The arrival of snow has brought upon an early urge to crank some Christmas music and bake up deliciousness in the confines of the warm farm kitchen. I envision my baking to-do list when I see the chimney smoke curl up from the house as my toes are frozen walking from barn to barn.
    Best of luck to you deer hunters this week, Happy Thanksgiving to all, and may you keep ahead of the challenges Mother Nature hands us.
    Jacqui and her family milk 800 cows and run 1,200 acres of crops in the northeastern corner of Vernon County, Wis. Her children, Ira (12), Dane (10), Henry (5) and Cora (toddler), help her on the farm while her husband, Keith, works on a grain farm. If she’s not in the barn, she’s probably in the kitchen, trailing after little ones, or sharing her passion of reading with someone. Her life is best described as organized chaos – and if it wasn’t, she’d be bored.