My new favorite word, at least for the next month or so, is apricity. When I first saw it shared as the word of the day, I immediately fell in love. It has such beautiful phonetics and an even more lovely definition.
Apricity is an obscure word from Old English vernacular that means “the warmth of the sun in winter.” The word is so old and unused that it’s no longer found in most dictionaries. It comes from the Latin word apricus, which means having lots of sunshine. A similar word, in verb form, is apricate, which means to bask in the sun.
My second thought after discovering this word was, “Oh, I’m going to name the next A-calf Apricity.” We already have a number of sun-related names in the herd – Sunlight, Sunrise, Solar, Shine, Sunny, and Solstice. It will be nice to continue the theme with a new letter. We’ll have an Apricity, an Apricate and an Apricus to start.
When you really think about, apricity deserves great appreciation. Here in Minnesota, apricity is the difference between a great winter day and a miserable winter day. How many times, on a bitterly cold winter day, have you heard a Minnesotan utter, “Well, at least the sun is shining.”
We crave apricity even if we’re not outside. I choose to sit down for lunch on the sunny side of our kitchen table. Sitting in the warmth of the sunlight beaming through our picture window warms me up far faster than my hot lunch.
I’m convinced animals crave apricity too.
Our house cat, Norbert, always finds the sunniest spots for his naps. And our winter-loving Australian shepherd, Ozzie, can often be found lying on the snow sunning himself. I wonder if he flips over periodically to cool the warm side and warm the cool side.
Our cows seek the sun too.
Last summer, we built a sand-bedded freestall barn to house our extra cows in the winter. These are the ones who don’t fit in our tiestall barn, both quantitatively and dimensionally.
I’ll probably dedicate a future column to how much I love our sand barn, but suffice it to say, it’s one of the best investments we’ve ever made.
Anyway, our sand barn is just stalls and alleys. The cows still eat and drink in the yard, where they did when they spent the winter on an outdoor bedded pack. Between the sand barn and the bunks, there’s an open area we’ve nicknamed the courtyard.
We know our sand stalls are comfortable, because I’m pretty sure those cows spend the entire night lying down. But on sunny mornings, you’ll only find a cow or two in the stalls. The rest are standing in the courtyard basking in the sun.
I always figured that given a choice between resting on sand or standing on concrete, cows would choose to rest. There’s something about apricity, though, that draws them outside.
I’m sure it feels good to have the sun warm their bodies. But it turns out there are biological benefits beyond feeling good.
Research done on large mammals in the wild indicates that apricating in the winter helps large mammals reduce their energy needs. Biometric monitoring showed that the Alpine ibex reduces both body temperature and heart rate at night, presumably to conserve energy. They then sunbathe in the morning to increase body temperature to a level sufficient for locomotion. Utilizing apricity to warm their bodies on sunny days is much more energy efficient than warming their bodies metabolically.
It appears the benefits of our cows’ mid-morning sunbathing are two-fold: feel good and reduce energy used for thermoregulation.
In hindsight, I’m glad the design we chose for our sand barn gives our cows the opportunity to take advantage of the warmth of the sun in the winter.
In foresight, I see myself using the word apricity a whole lot more. I hope you will too. It’s too beautiful a word to be obsolete.
Sadie and her husband, Glen, milk 100 cows near Melrose, Minnesota. They have three children – Dan, 15, Monika, 12, and Daphne, 9. Sadie also writes a blog at www.dairygoodlife.com. She can be reached at sadiefrericks@gmail.com.