Farmers are eternal optimists or crazy; maybe both. What else would explain the willingness to keep going despite all that Mother Nature throws at them? I am exhausted from shoveling snow, my knees are giving out and my hands are going numb, and I still haven’t finished shoveling all the usual spots from a big storm last Thursday. And yet, once I start shoveling, I enjoy being out in the elements and working hard. There’s a lot to be said for visible accomplishments as they buoy the soul even if they are physically challenging. You can immediately tell you’ve done something, even if it only lasts until the next snowstorm!
Over two feet of snow last week, on top of over a foot from the week before with no warm-up is giving the farm a canyon look. This is atypical winter weather here, luckily. As a small farmer I can’t justify purchasing the large equipment that would make the job less physically demanding that a large farm could. If all I had to do was shovel the driveway my life would be much easier! If this much snow were typical I’d also need to build a bigger barn to keep all the animals in one big area vs shoveling paths to run-in shelters and hay feeders out in the pastures. The chicken house also has flat roofs in the winter confinement area that was built to keep hawks out, and they need to be cleared after each significant snow storm. The run-in sheds are all flat roofs too. It’s also pretty much impossible to haul bedding and manure anywhere for composting at this point, so deep layer bedding (covering yesterday’s manure with fresh hay) is the way to go, but makes for a big cleanup project come spring! Also had to dig out the drainage ditch just outside the chicken compound so that melting snow doesn’t flood their main gathering area (it IS going to melt, right?). In other words, setup and equipment determine how much work is involved with maintaining the farm, and the small farmer has to put a lot more physical labor into the enterprise than a larger outfit.
[The photo immediately below is from 2 weeks ago, after a 10 inch snowstorm. Path is from west of the house looking to the wethers pasture with a run-in shelter and hay feeder visible. If you look carefully you can also see James (white goat in shelter) and Rembaldi (black goat). As of today you can no longer see into the shelter due to the snow pile in front of the cattle panel enclosure that surrounds the run-in shed].
The animals all seem to take the weather extremes in stride but it can be deceiving just how close to the line between life and death they are walking. Walking out to one of my small sheds (to clear the roof of the >2 foot of snow so it doesn’t collapse) was exhausting. Sometimes I could walk on top of the snow for a step or two, then I’d fall through, sometimes all the way to the ground, sometimes only down to the last ice layer; often falling over at the unstable footing. Needless to say I felt like I’d run a marathon by the time I’d make it to the shed! The small birds have it made as they can land on the snow without sinking through.
When I go out to feed the goats at night and lock them into their coyote proof enclosures they are frantic for their food and the alfalfa cubes I give them as treats. It’s hard to see as it tells me they are hurting. I bring them warm water too and they will drink most of the bucket before I’ve had a chance to lock up and make my way out of the pasture. Another dilemma due to all the snow is that the fences can be walked over by predators. All I can do is hope that the coyotes are not ranging as broadly as normal. Based on the lack of tracks, so far so good. I’m sure all the snow isn’t making their lives easy either.