The scenario is bound to play out on your farm at some point – you run down a mental checklist on a nice spring evening planning must-do chores for the following day. The livestock will need feeding, of course, but the horses also need to be shoed, and cleaning the root cellar just can’t wait.
Then you wake up in the morning to an unexpected rain pounding your roof. Or, more likely, you only have the usual chores to do in the rain, but the goats got out, and you need to go fix fence.
At some point, you’ll have to endure the rain to get necessary work done. That day is coming, so you might as well accept it and be ready. Here are the keys to keeping dry and productive when you could be drenched and miserable.
Off on the right foot
The most important things to keep dry – and with cold weather, dry means warm – are your feet. A good pair of rubber boots will go a long way to keeping you on the job until the work is done. Rubber boots have the advantage over waterproof leather boots – they are less likely to spring a leak at the seams. Also, leather boots don’t stand up as well to blood or other barnyard byproducts. Rubber boots are impervious to most chemicals, and they are easy to rinse off when the work is done. With farm life, blood, muck and manure are often unavoidable – whether you are birthing calves or repairing a frost-damaged water hydrant.
Durability and affordability are keys to maximizing your investment, so rather than picking up a pair of $20 boots at the local farm supply store that will last one rain season, tops, I suggest spending a little extra money for a boot that will last years.
Three quality boots in the $75 to $110 range include the classic Northerner brand, the Muck Boot and Xtratuf boots. All three boots are American-owned, by Honeywell, which has the last American rubber boot production plant, right on the banks of the Mississippi River in Rock Island, Illinois.
I love my pair of insulated Northerners (a 3-eyelet insulated pair retails for around $90, and you can get other models for less). I wore them as a youngster – I remember wrestling for an eternity with the bootjack (mine were undoubtedly hand-me-downs and probably a little too small, even well before I passed them on to someone else), trying to pull them off after a day out in the mud.
Nowadays, part of the appeal is their recognition as the classic American farm boot. For me, wearing – or even seeing – a pair of Northerners takes me back to my father dropping trees, and my brothers and I hauling logs by the armful out of a ditch-like part of the forest that we unaffectionately called Devil’s Lane.
Today, it’s still a good boot for me, with the lightweight composite shank in the sole providing side-to-side support and insulation that keeps my feet warm, even in sub-zero temperatures. An American icon, the 3-eyelet model I have has been in production for more than 40 years; if it ain’t broke …
The Muck Boot is another American classic (produced overseas, but still owned by a U.S. company), although lacking the name recognition of the Northerner. It’s the original American work boot with a neoprene upper. The neoprene upper’s give is unique to the boot, and they are known for their comfort. Muck Boots are widely used in the tack world and in hunting, particularly duck hunting since duck hunters are often standing in water. When you put on any pair of neoprene boots, there is a different feel, even a sensation, and any boot you find with a neoprene upper relates back to the Muck Boot.
A new boot that controls the market in Alaska and has made a name for itself in commercial fishing is the Xtratuf, the boot used by crew members on the popular TV show, Deadliest Catch, on the Discovery Channel. These boots use a solid, completely liquid neoprene-dipped construction method, so there isn’t a seam anywhere. It can’t leak, unless it’s punctured. The rubberized neoprene stretches, too. Then, of course, there’s the feature that is making them famous, the slip-resistant outsoles that provide excellent grip on smooth, wet surfaces. That would make this boot ideal in the dairy barn or hog house.
Of course, there are many other recognizable quality boots – LaCrosse comes to mind, as does Servus – but the three boots above are owned by Honeywell, a company that puts North American workers to work in the production plant – something to consider when buying a workman’s boot.
Moving on up
With a jacket and pants suitable for the rain, one thing that is important to consider is a product’s breathability, which is an easy word to throw around in a catalogue, but a completely abstract idea until you get the suit on. Fabric is a big part of breathability.
When looking for quality rain jackets or pants, fabrics and their functionality are an integral part of the package.
It’s annoying to me to sweat in the rain. It’s counterintuitive. Overcompensating for the rain to the point of perspiring is like wearing clothes in winter that have you drenched with sweat, or stoking the fire in the house until you run your family out the doors. Working in the summer, you’ll be uncomfortable when soaked with sweat, so why not just wear regular clothing and become soaked with fresh rainwater?!
All-vinyl outers will have you sweating most times. The Dickies rain jacket I use is 70 percent cotton and 30 percent polyester, with a 100 percent nylon taffeta lining, and it is seam-sealed, waterproof and wind resistant. It’s the best rain jacket I’ve ever had, mainly because it’s the only one I’ve ever owned that doesn’t feel like I’m wearing a big plastic trash bag (a trash bag will make a good poncho in a pinch, by the way), and that’s because of breathability.
Carhartt also has a line of rain gear, including PVC suits and more breathable models of jackets and pants. Compare prices between those two companies. I’ve
always been impressed with Dickies rain gear.
Watch your topknot
Like your feet, your head is a key feature to keep dry, at least during the winter months. If I’m out working in the summer, a little rain on my head always feels good, but it can get annoying after a while.
To combat that, I wear a wire-brimmed hat, even if it’s not water resistant. I have a favorite hat, from The Real Deal Brazil, that’s made of repurposed tarps from Brazilian cargo trucks, a cool bit of recycling. It’s wire-brimmed, so I shaped it myself, and the various pieces of fabric make it look like the hat could have some patched bullet holes mixed in. Although it soaks up rain and becomes wet, the main thing it does in a downpour is deflect the rain and keep the flow off my face and out of my eyes.
However, in the cold, it’s a different story. If it’s raining and cold outside, staying dry is imperative to staying warm. The best bet is to be sure you get a rain jacket that has a good hood, so when the hurricane hits you can pull the hood up and tighten the drawstrings. Maybe you’ll have a ball cap that can be worn underneath to deflect the rain from your eyes and face (the Grit cap at www.Grit.com/Grit-cap sports the name of my favorite team).
Also, you can get brimmed hats with neoprene headbands and adjustable straps. FCS has one for $20. I’ve found rubber bucket hats for that price or less, perfect for working in the garden.
In the event that the cows, horses, goats or what have you get out of the pasture when it’s cold outside, I’d advise putting on a favorite raincoat and your heaviest stocking cap. The hood will keep the stocking cap as dry as possible, and that will keep your head and ears warm.
If you’ve invested in the raincoat, a pair of water-resistant pants and a good pair of rubber boots, I’m of the mind that you can go without rain gloves, or even the rain hats I mentioned.
Rubber gloves or neoprene gloves are nice to have − if you’re duck hunting or driving a tractor, they approach necessity − but in everyday chores, I’ve done without. A regular pair of leather chore gloves or winter gloves will get the job done just fine.
One accessory I always like to keep in the truck is a poncho. They are cheap, and in the event that you need to do a quick chore, like change a flat, they can save the day. I don’t think there is an investment to be made in an expensive model; most times when you are wearing a poncho the wear and tear will be minimal.
Unforeseen circumstances occur all the time, that’s part of the fun of country living – you are forced to survive. Sometimes tasks don’t conveniently come together. But you endure. There is something profound in a person choosing to live in such a way that he or she needs to be regularly resourceful. Chores happen, fences break and animals escape – all without regard to convenience.
Being prepared with the appropriate rain gear helps you maintain that resourceful edge when the weather turns wet – and helps you maintain some level of comfort when things turn uncomfortable.
Assistant Editor Caleb Regan learned a lot about rain gear while freezing his rear end off during the duck-hunting seasons of his youth.
Caleb Regan and his wife, Gwen, live in rural Douglas County, Kansas, where they enjoy hunting, fishing, and raising and growing as much of their own food as they can. Caleb can’t imagine a better scenario than getting to work on a rural lifestyle magazine as a profession, and then living that same lifestyle right in the heartland of America. Connect with him on Google+.