Brutal Cold Brings Headaches to W.Va Farm

1/11/2014 7:00 AM
By Marla Pisciotta West Virginia Correspondent

ROMNEY, W.Va. — The inclement weather has created hardships for the farmers at the Arnold Farm on River Road in Romney.

Coming off two fairly mild winters with little snow, the Arnolds say this winter, with the brutal cold temperatures, has been worse than most.

John “Splinter” Arnold II and his son, John Arnold III, own and operate a diverse 700-acre farm on the outskirts of Romney.

“Right now the mud is terrible and it’s freezing up, which makes it tough for the cattle to get around because it hurts their feet,” Splinter said last Friday.

Currently, the cow/calf part of the farm is taking up most of the time.

The younger Arnold said just getting the cattle in the truck to take to market was a headache.

“One cow broke through the ice stepping up to the pond, broke through and sliced her ankle,” he said. “The cut was about half-inch deep and between 3 and 4 inches long. We bandaged it off and stopped the bleeding. It was nasty.”

He said the cow was old and being taken to the slaughterhouse in Winchester, Va.

In addition to the cow/calf part of the business, Splinter said the extremely cold weather has kept him and his son busy trying to keep the ice broken at the watering holes for the cattle.

“We’re not in a situation where we have a river,” Splinter said.

The younger Arnold said the recent cold temperatures have led the ice to grow to 2 inches thick during overnight hours.

“We have to stay ahead of that otherwise we’ll be using a chainsaw to get through it,” he said.

Cold temperatures also cause water to get in the fuel. The younger Arnold said he pulls the tractor inside the workshop when the temperatures plummet. Long Johns and toboggans — among other layers of clothing — keep the Arnold men relatively warm.

And at 14 degrees, Splinter said the cattle got together and opened a gate breaking down a fence.

“We had to fix the fence. This is just part of farming. We have to be prepared,” he said. “It’s the old adage if anything can go wrong it will and winter makes things worse.”

Splinter said winter hit before all the crops were harvested.

“We still have some corn to get off,” he said.

The younger Arnold said between seven and eight acres of corn has to be harvested this coming week.

“Corn has to be down to around 15 percent moisture before it’s harvested. Because of all the rain it hasn’t dried out. Normally it’s dry enough in November. We had to leave it standing. It just wouldn’t dry out this year,” he said.

Once harvested, the corn will either be used for feed or go straight to the mill.

The younger Arnold said the two were lucky to get their 20-plus acres of soybeans cut a month ago just before the snow arrived.

The Arnolds run their farm totally by themselves without paid help. The Arnold family has operated the once 900-acre farm since 1892, when Splinter’s grandfather worked it as a sharecropper.

“My grandfather was John F. Arnold. My dad, myself and my son are John R. My grandfather operated the farm until 1938 when he bought it and we’ve been running it ever since,” Splinter said.

The farm went from 900 to around 700 acres when the family sold a 200-acre parcel of the mountain.

The family rents other land for pasture and farming purposes.

Their major crop is the cow/calf operation, followed by sweet corn, green beans and bird egg beans.

“We make about 125 acres of hay, which is between 600 and 800 rolls each year,” Splinter said.

The Arnolds are part of a cattle pool, where the young cattle not sold are taken through the winter to be sold in the spring.

Hampshire County residents look forward to the farm’s sweet corn, which is sold from the back of a truck at various stations throughout the county.

Between 5,000 and 7,000 dozen ears of sweet corn are sold annually.

“All our corn is picked fresh the morning we sell it. Nancy (the family matriarch) drives the truck, while me and John pull the corn off,” Splinter said.

The two acres of beans grown annually are harvested by a harvesting machine.

Splinter is also known for his pumpkin patch and his creative artwork, something he has done for the past 25-30 years.

“At one time, we grew between 15 and 18 acres of pumpkins. The market is dwindling. Other patches are showing up and taking over,” Splinter said.

He said that blight and deer have made it nearly impossible to continue with pumpkins.

“Our farm used to be the place to go for the schoolchildren to see all the pumpkins. I doubt we will continue. The seed has gotten terribly expensive,” Splinter said.

And with the cold of winter, it’s time for firewood.

The Arnold farmhouse is heated with an outdoor stove. The workshop has a woodstove as well.

“We have lots of dead wood back in the woods. It’s just finding time to get it in that’s hard,” Splinter said.

For Splinter, farming is a special business that is a labor of love.

“When you decide to go this route, you take care of the livestock and take good of care of the land.”

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