Friday, February 27, 2015

The Most "Un-Wonderful" Time of the Year

I hate winter.

There. I said it.

While I realize that I just horrified snow lovers and winter sports enthusiasts, and put myself in the same category as Oscar the Grouch and the Grinch. I'm pretty sure I now somehow personify the word curmudgeon even more succinctly than Scrooge at his absolute “scroogiest”. And, I’m almost certain someone will take me to task for my bad attitude.

But…truth is…

I just Hate winter. With a capital “H”.

it looks like Ellie shares my sentiments

Oh, the snow is pretty when it is first falling.

the snow begins

And, the first few cold, clear days are often quite beautiful.

it is pretty!

But, the grinding cold and the relentless winds and the half-melted, re-frozen snow that maintains its icy grip begins to feels like it is eating at my very soul as the days turn into weeks with no real relief in sight. It’s the frozen water buckets and soggy socks, the layers and layers of clothing that must be put on and taken off, the hauling of heavy buckets through the slush and ice…the endless grey skies, the inability to do the work necessary to make a living.

And, while I know that Spring will eventually come to our Valley, first one must survive the Winter.

And, that’s the part most folks miss.  What it takes to survive. The effects of winter weather are far-reaching.  We cannot just sit back and relax and wait for the big thaw. Any losses now will be felt for a long time to come. The work that cannot be done or must be postponed will indeed show up in our “bottom-line” at the end of the year.

When the lovely snowflakes start falling, we don’t have the luxury of staying by the fire, drinking hot cocoa and choosing a new cookie recipe.   There are living beings that are utterly dependent upon us. Winter is quite often truly a battle for survival of the fittest.

Despite the weather, the animals must always have food, water and some sort of shelter.  Severe winter weather is a true test of both our planning abilities and our commitment to our way of life.

feeding the sheep during the storm
the feeders are buried and full of snow

before the sheep can eat, the feeders must be cleared out

There’s no calling out for bad weather…not on the farm.  (no days off…ever)

The threat of a winter storm means that we go into full emergency preparedness mode. The possibility of an extended power outage is very real.   Feed and food---check.  Fuel---check! Batteries and firewood---check.  Water, lamb formula and pet food---check, check and check. Shovels, brooms, gloves and boots stand by the door waiting to see action. Yes! We’re ready. 

The last snow dumped over 15 inches of the white stuff in about the same number of hours.  During that time, the temperature never rose above 20*. That meant that eggs needed to be gathered hourly…and the ice had to be removed from the hens’ waterer. Because on our small farm, a climate-controlled hen house is not an option. (actually…climate-controlled anything is not an option)

clearing the backporch---again
To gather the eggs and check the water, someone needed to gather their own winter clothing and boots, leave the warmth of the house and trek out to the henhouse through the whipping wind and swirling snowflakes, trudging through the ever-deepening drifts. Mission accomplished, the eggs could be stowed safely in the cooler for future sales. (it seemed more than a little ironic that the COOLER was warmer than the temperature outside)  Then return to the house for a slight warming before it was time to do it again.

In addition to the eggs, the bottle lambs needed attention. Bottles must be mixed and delivered three times a day (four for the little babies) regardless of the weather or one’s health and/or inclination.  There are far too many babies (and they are far too large and rambunctious) to bring indoors. So, it’s off to the barn with the box of baby bottles. That is, after suiting up and shoveling the back porch (again).
the animals don't care for bad weather
the hens can't even get out of the henhouse!

We waited and watched the snowflakes fall endlessly throughout the day. We needed to be ready… Because as the last snowflake falls, action must be taken.  Snowblower, tractor and shovels were standing by.  With three foot drifts in places across the farm, it would take a lot of effort to assure future access prior to the re-freeze that is a serious factor following every winter storm.

Did you know that snowblowers are completely ineffective when it comes to icy, compacted snow?  That’s why time is of the essence.
blowing a path to the henhouse
that's as far as the snowblower could go

This particular storm was not kind and ended in the dark of night with rain on top of the snow.  That limited the effectiveness of the snowblower, leaving most of the work to the tractor.  The tractor’s size confined it to the large clearing jobs and delegated the rest of the clearing to the shovel…which must be operated by the “shovelers”.  Lots and lots of physical effort goes into clearing paths to greenhouses and stocktanks.  Did you know that it’s 177 loads with the aluminum grain scoop from the stock tank to the main path?  Yep! I counted.  I was quite proud of my little path…and the dogs seemed to appreciate it, too. That little path is just one of many…there are paths to the both greenhouses, the pullets and the garden hydrant. (the blower did make it to the hens)  It took both of us an hour to dig a path to the the ram paddock out back.

well, that needs shoveling!

a path to the barn hydrant

working on the neighbor's drive

the "somewhat" cleared lane

shoveling to the ram paddock
Gus checking out the new path
made it to the garden hydrant!
the Boss and the neighbor clearing the lane

clearing the driveway

Paths cleared, surely it’s time to take a well-deserved break, right?  Wrong. It’s time to gather eggs, feed babies (again) AND check on the greenhouses.  The bright sun reflecting off the white, white snow causes the temperatures in the greenhouses to soar.  Ventilation must be maintained (so shovel out to get to the doors!) And, water…the little plants need water.  Since all the irrigation infrastructure is frozen (and covered in feet of snow), a bucket and watering can must be utilized.  That means hauling buckets of water over/through the deep snow.

greenhouse door buried in snow

the view out the greenhouse window

It was a pleasure to see the sun and feel warmth once again.  Although as the snow melted, it was obvious that there would be even more work.  ICE is not our friend.  The melting snow causes puddles and pooling everywhere.  The frozen ground cannot absorb it, so as night falls, it freezes where it stands, causing the slight slope down to the barn to become a high-speed luge track, while the shady spot in front of the barn becomes an ideal ice-skating rink. But, skaters and lugers never attempt to carry fifty-pound feedsacks while performing! (I can assure you…that definitely makes for some most interesting moves) Rock salt, kitty litter and gravel all work to give us some sort of traction.
barn before clearing
The slightly melted snowdrifts have now become immovable icebergs, giving way to only the greatest of efforts, or extremely warm temperatures. (neither of which look to be coming in the foreseeable future)  But, the dogs are enjoying romping on TOP of the snow and the huge mounds make for grand observation posts. 
plowed drive

cleared parking area

you can see the whole lane from up here!

As we begin to move on from the snowstorm, another looms on the horizon.  While nothing dire is predicted…this historic snowfall began as a prediction for flurries, leaving everyone in the community more than a little concerned that we are under the gun once more. And we're still slogging through the snow and ice of the last storm (and the snowstorm before that) least the driveway was clear for ONE day!


As we once again check the fuel supply, the feed supply and our battery inventory…

All I can say is

           COME ON, SPRING!

May 2013


  1. Yes, that's the trouble with farming - it is relentless work. However much you enjoy it it is still pretty awful going out in all weathers. The farmer's cold weather gear - layers, thermal socks, waterproof trousers and fleecy lined anorak under his waterproof jacket - they take such an age to get into and out of, but they are so necessary when there are hungry mouths to feed. Especially those babies in your case - those bottle fed ones will need more food than ever in the cold weather. I really feel for you. The photographs are so interesting by the way - and blue sky should mean something surely. Best wishes for an early arrival of Spring.

  2. Farming is such hard work. The snow I can't relate to, but the endless work I can. I loved this post. You tell the realities of farming so well, and the photos are add so much.

    Hoping the weather is not as bad as they are predicting and it starts to warm up for you.

    1. Thanks for taking the time to post such kind words.
      I visited your blog. What beautiful photos! It looks like you're wanting to cool down while we're just wishing for a little warming trend in the weather.
      Hope you'll come "visit" us again.

  3. Hello Friend Barbara,
    Ray says they are calling for a day in the mid to upper 60's next week! Dare we hope?
    I remember sitting on top of the snow looking down at the top of my mother's head when we lived in Maine. She was shoveling the driveway, snow above her head and finally exclaimed, "There's no place to PUT it Where do I PUT it?"
    Pardon my ignorance, but don't you need winter snow to avoid later drought? I always thought so, but maybe I'm wrong -like about so many things in life! I hope you fing some joy and some rest in your weekend. I am probably going to just stay home I tire so easily. Ray has a sleep apnea study tomorrow night. But maybe I'lll drive the car. Haven't driven sice concussion. Don't want to do it alone first time, ya know? Hey! Let ME at that tractor. I'll clear ya some paths, by golly! LOL!
    xo, m & jb (who says… will dig (in drifts) for chikin ,,,nope, no chicken,,,next drift,,,)

    1. Hi Maureen!
      Glad to see you're back in blogland! I certainly hope Ray is right about the weather. But, March is always a wild ride here in the Valley, so I'm not going to get too excited about Spring-y weather quite yet.
      You're right about the snow helping with a way. The snowpack adds to the groundwater level which will keep creeks flowing and wells from going dry during the summer. This water can be used for irrigation if need be. However, without the precipitation falling from the sky, the dreaded "D" word will be uttered by someone, somewhere and all the local farmers will start worrying and watching the sky. (including me)
      Best to you and Ray this weekend!
      P.S. Tell JB that Gus found a tiny mouse under a snow drift yesterday. It was great fun. (watching it was hilarious!) The drift and the mouse are now history.