Cold weather survival

All right, someone has to say it. It’s cold.
That little nip of cold reminds us that here in the Midwest in mid-November we should be readying ourselves for the coming winter. Yet, the weather forecast tells us it will warm up again next week.
The fluctuation in the temperature is making the animals and humans slightly crazy. One day it is cold enough to dig to the bottom of the winter clothes tub and search for our wool socks, thermal shirts and thick long johns; the next, I’m overdressed and sweaty by the time I make my trek to the barn. Some mornings, the cows’ breathing makes foggy clouds above the free stalls, and we have to start watching for those hidden patches of frozen manure to prevent a painful fall. Other days, the doors are flung wide to let sunshine in and curtains are rolled up. Dressing and undressing calves in their jackets is a chore fit for a preschool teacher helping little ones head out to recess on a chilly day. Seeing as how we do live in Wisconsin, we should be prepared for the changing of the seasons. We sometimes have two seasons in one day. Yet, I foolishly kept hoping for a few more warm days where I would have extra hours to get some winterizing done. Now as I look outside at our snowy, slushy, slightly white world, I have to embrace the cold and put all of my warm-up strategies into effect.
There are the obvious ways to survive farming through the winter months. We are fans of Smartwool socks and insulated TideWe boots. If my feet are cold, I’m done. I can no longer think of anything else I was supposed to be accomplishing; it’s as if my brain freezes along with my toes. I carry an extra pair of thin, yet slightly warm gloves with me. It’s awfully hard to run a vaccine gun efficiently with thick gloves on, so for the animals’ safety and mine, I use the thin ones. As a bonus, when I take my other gloves off, I stick them in the sleeves of my jacket, and by the time I put them back on, they are nice and toasty. We also keep a tub of mittens, scarves, gloves and a few sweatshirts in the barn for those days when anyone from kids to adults needs an extra layer to ward off the chills.
Beyond the layers of clothing, there are other, more farmer-specific ways to fend off the cold. My personal favorite way to warm up my chilled hands is to sneak them into a “cow pit,” the cow’s armpit. That is the great spot made just for hands between her front leg and body. There is also her “leg pit,” that spot between her leg and her udder. I was walking cows this morning and had to stop twice to warm up my hands. Those 1,600-pound milking machines make spectacular impromptu heaters. Dad taught us these tricks when we were little. These are tricks of the farmer trade that I have taught my children along with uttering the lines I’m certain my parents used on us: Wiggle your toes to keep them warm; jump up and down; work faster and you will warm up; and run around – that will warm you up.
Sometimes, I tell myself the house will be so nice and warm and I should appreciate the fact that I can go in there for a few hours and work in warmth. I always feel bad when the guys have to come in and warm up only to go back out in the wind and snow. To me, warming up when you have to go back out is the hardest part. It is easy to throw yourself a pity party when it comes to working outside in cold weather. Remind yourself that it could always be worse, and someone always has it worse off than you do. I may have to deal with a frozen gutter pipe and freshening cows that don’t give two hoots about the temperature, but I don’t have the wind whipping against my face as I fight with them. The voice in my head asks, “Would you rather be cooped up in an office?” When I answer that question, it usually freezes all of my internal griping.
There are a few other mental tricks I employ to attempt to take the chill out. When I’m cleaning the maternity pens, all I can think is what I have in the oven for lunch that will be so delicious and hot when I walk in the door. Those are the days when making lunch ahead of time pays for itself tenfold. Even better are the days when I forget that I put it in the oven by the time I make it in the basement door and the aroma surprises me. Believe me, as crazy as it sounds, I absolutely can forget about the meal I’ve prepped after a few hours in the barn. I also find myself dreaming of how much warmer it will be when there are doors instead of my straw bale wall and an advertisement tarp blocking the wind. I find myself thinking about how much we complain when the heat of the summer is stifling and sweat is pouring into our eyes as we throw hay bales.
At the end of the day, though, I am grateful to live in a place that sees all of the seasons in prime form even if portions of them are less desirable than others. I choose to hold onto the beauty despite the cold.
    Jacqui and her family milk 800 cows and farm 1,200 acres of crops in the northeastern corner of Vernon County, Wisconsin. Her children, Ira, Dane, Henry and Cora, 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.


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