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I'm Tired of Ice; Bring on the Mud

January 29, 2022

Snow cover on a cow indicates that the animal is well insulated. A Scottish Highlander's double-thick hair is the perfect insulator in freezing weather.

The plastic wrap on the huge hay bale was frozen, and so were my fingers. I had removed my gloves to use my knife to slice the wrap, and now my fingers hurt. Husband Bruce got out of the Bobcat (a huge tractor) to help me, the one-woman ground crew, release the 1,000-pound round bale from its plastic wrap and feed it out to the cattle. We are in a prolonged arctic blast, and the cattle need hay, lots of hay, to generate energy to stay warm.

Besides food, livestock need water to survive cold temperatures, so when we aren't feeding hay, we're checking water. Cattle don't need as much water in winter as in summer, but they must drink enough to digest the extra hay.

The Salamander Helps

When the temperatures stay frigid for so long, even water heaters can't thaw freezing water. We check three troughs at least twice a day, and sometimes, after I break up the ice, I heat the water with "The Salamander." That's the brand name of our kerosene-burning heater, but it amuses me to call it by that name as if an exotic creature is being called in to help my cows. 

I check the cattle every day, mostly the young stock, for shivering. If a calf is shivering, it needs help. Adult cattle with plenty of food and water can handle the cold, but I still check them for shivering or odd behavior. Cows that don't show interest in food or separate themselves from the herd can be in trouble even if they are not shivering. So far this year, I haven't seen any shivering cows or calves, but I sure have felt the cold!

Ground Hog Day

Encouragement is needed, and when the cold seems never-ending, here comes Groundhog Day! Feb. 2 is midway between the winter solstice and the vernal equinox. It's when groundhogs supposedly emerge from their burrows, and if the weather is sunny and they are frightened by their shadows, they dive back into their holes, and winter persists for six more weeks. It's a Pennsylvania Dutch superstition. Over the years, Punxsutawney Phil has become the celebrity groundhog, and all eyes are on him.

Half Your Hay

For farmers with critters to feed, Feb. 2 has great significance in the adage: "Half your hay by Ground Hog Day," meaning if you've used more than half your hay, you're probably going to run out. We are right on schedule.

Miles Smith Farm is surviving the winter as well as can be expected. But here's hoping Punxsutawney Phil forecasts an early spring. It'll be fun to complain about mud for a change.

Carole Soule

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