It has at long last started to act like a real Wisconsin winter outside. Even the insides of my window panes are sporting a bit of icy décor. This means extra layers for already marshmallow-like bundled children. Cora gets to spend more time in the warm milkhouse with the dogs versus being toted around in the chilly barn. She seems to think if I am holding her she can tear off her mittens. Turns out it is more convenient to suck her thumb and hold my hair without fuzzy mittens in the way. It is ridiculous to attempt to reason with her about why she should leave her mittens on. For this fact, she stays put in her playpen entertaining herself with Play-Doh, scolding the dogs, begging for a cat to come or reading books. If I am lucky, she can go to the office and draw pictures under the watchful eyes of our ever-helpful secretary, Linda.
    We should not complain about our weather so far. But, we are human so inevitably we do. When it does cool down enough for the wished-for white stuff, within days it has warmed up again and turns to muck and disappears. A good dose of snow keeps my children entertained for hours outside, makes the world seem fresh and clean, and after all, it is cold so why not have snow? The boys love a day of the heavy, wet snow. It is the perfect snow for building forts into the piles pushed up by the snowplow truck. They sneak outside packing shovels and hammers (the back of a hammer is a great ice pick I am told) from the barn. It is common to not see them or hear a peep for hours.
    They make tracks for their sleds through the corn stubble in the fields as I pray no one crashes onto a lethal corn stalk and loses an eyeball. They have long ago learned the art of bailing out so no one hits a tree or a fence post. They bring in snowballs for Cora to destroy or snack on, whichever makes her happier that day. Yes, snow is like having an entertaining babysitter for me. The phrase, “Mom, what can I do?” is not so quickly uttered when there is a good amount of the white stuff outside.
    In the barn, I am adding things to my checklist. Warmer socks are at the top. Followed by my concerns about the teat health of the fresh heifers; frostbite finds them first it seems. They have so much edema sometimes. It is easy to go from a bit sore to a scabbed up, cannot get milk out, very sore teat end and then my eternal foe mastitis. I have three back in the hospital as we speak, getting some extra TLC to heal them up and send them on their way. I changed dips Saturday night and left cows in the parlor a bit longer to dry off more before releasing them to go eat and sleep.
    It is emphasized to every human walking the barn to check for coming calves. I think our ears are all tuned in for the I-am-calving-you-better-run bellow. It is never optimal for a calf to slide out into a pen of cows, even less so when it is -5 degrees. As soon as the calf is licked off, it needs to be put in the warmer or heat lamp hutches. We have two of the big blue calf ovens; the warmers that calves go into to dry off after birth. We also have two hutch contraptions that have a board with a heat lamp positioned over them for new calves, as well. We cover the fronts with old quilts, keeping the warmth in as best we can. We use comforters, bath towels and quilts on the calves. I like to think the little old lady who stitched the pieces together on a quilt would be content in knowing her work makes bovine babies warm every day.
    We have hooked up our pasteurizer again, now filling it daily for usage. We have 22 beef-cross calves that look forward to their meals of 120-degree milk to warm them up from head to hoof. It is a great use for our abundance of fresh cow and other hospital cow milk. It also makes those calves grow like crazy on three times a day feedings. One of the things I remember I did not miss from having calves in hutches was putting them in when they jump out. Those creatures are speedy in the snow.
    Walks to the barn become an adventure with the changing of the weather. It is a workout if I have to carry Cora, and a good lesson in being patient if I let her walk. Sometimes we compromise. It is a trick for both of us to stay upright on those icy days, and she is closer to the ground than I am if she goes down. She, like the rest of my crew, is starting to appreciate the beauty of looking at the stars and the moon on our cloudless, frigid nights, and cranes her neck back to watch a jet stream in the daytime.
    Keep your babies bundled, your toes warm, and do not forget to peek at the sky every once in a while.
    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.