So what’s life been like for you this week? My guess is the roads to and from work have been a bit of a mess, you either shoveled or used a snow blower to clear your driveway, and your home has been nice and toasty during these days of subzero wind chills.
What’s life been like for my family this week? About the same as for you, except that we use a tractor to plow the long farm lane, and we have cows to care for.
When the weather takes a turn for the worst as it’s done this week, preparing the farm and animals for the cold requires a bit more preparation than checking to see if you have gas for the snow blower.
So here’s a list of a few of the things a dairy farmer checks during the severe cold we’ve been experiencing:
- All the calves, especially those under 3 weeks old, should have calf coats on. A little bit of extra insulation goes a long way to keep calves healthy.
- All the waterers should be heated. Some come that way by design, but those that don’t – for instance, a large Rubbermaid tub that gets filled with a hose – need to have electric heaters submerged in the water to keep it from freezing. This also means running electric cords to these heaters, and keeping the animals from eating the cords at the same time.
- Keeping water hoses thawed for the watering of animals, washing of milking equipment, etc. This also means putting heat tape and insulation around outside water hydrants.
- Attempting to keep water lines and other pipes from freezing and breaking. There's not a lot you can do to prevent freezing other than turn the faucet on to a light drip – and pray.
- Bedding, bedding, bedding. While you’re under a mound of blankets, cows are outside in often uninsulated buildings. A thick layer of dry straw works best for animals to cuddle into.
- Keeping an adequate supply of feed on hand just in case the delivery man can’t make it to you.
- Keeping the barn as draft-free as possible. Animals naturally give off a great deal of heat compared with a human. Therefore, they’ll typically heat their barn a little bit, which in turn can help keep pipes from freezing. Adult cows are comfortable at 45-55 degrees F, calves at 55-68 degrees F, and humans like to be at 68-77 degrees F.
- Plowing the farm lane. A lot of lanes are long compared with the normal home driveway, and oftentimes they’re sided by open fields – the perfect setup for drifting. You can use anything from a skid loader to a loader tractor to a plow hooked to the pickup truck or tractor. While the farmer’s wife may need to get out for work, the more critical part is having the milk truck driver get in. Without a regularly scheduled milk pickup, the farmer has nowhere to go with the milk and dozens of complications can result.
- Despite everything else, all the normal chores have to be done. Cows need to be milked at least twice a day. Everyone needs to be fed and watered. Babies are still going to be born.
While keeping the animals alive and healthy is paramount, keeping the farmer alive and healthy is pretty important too. Typical attire can include layers and layers of long underwear; insulated jeans, overalls, jackets, socks and boots; and something more than a baseball cap on a farmer’s head makes for quite the plump person walking though the barn.
I’ve said it before and I’m going to say it again, thank a farmer for all they do, especially when they're risking frostbite to make sure you have food to eat.