Tackling Farm Chores in Rainy Late Winter

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I think I will make the gravel path longer!

I would have to say that I’m not much of a fan of late winter, as far as weather goes. In our part of Ohio, February is unpredictable and fickle, It taxes my patience, endurance, and sanity in ways that no other month does. This February has been no different!

We started the month with “regular” winter temperatures – it was cold, but not so cold that it was difficult to work outside. Then the snow and bitter temperatures came for a week or so, and now we’re wrapping things up with temperatures in the 40s and 50s. Today it’s also raining. And there’s always wind, or at least a breeze, that affects the “feels like” temperature. All of these changes mean that I need to keep on my toes to properly care for the animals and keep myself safe in the weather.

How the Animals Deal with Cold

When it’s just cold outside, all is well. I bundle up in my layers of clothing and venture forth. As always, we keep the hay feeders full and the water troughs topped off, checking to see that the trough heaters are functioning.

Shetland sheep are fine with this weather, as are the livestock guardian dogs – they all have a good layer of fat, plus their wool or fur to keep themselves warm. On sunnier cold days, they will all go lay outside of the barn, soaking up the little bit of heat from the sun.

Livestock guardian dogs love snow and can be found laying outside while it’s snowing. Their double coat protects them very well – even when they are wet and snowy on the outside, their skin is warm and dry. And when they’re not sleeping on top of the snow, they are playing in it. It’s quite a sight to see 110 pound dogs frolicking and rolling around after a snowfall! Even the Shetlands look at them like they’re a bit crazy.

Goats are a more likely to stay inside the barn and eat hay all day. They have a winter layer of fat and hair, but just don’t care to be out of the barn when it’s cold. They must remember their more tropical origins.

Standing water near the equipment barn.

Keeping Up With Winter Farm Chores

A couple of weeks ago when we got a significant snowfall and below freezing temperatures, we worked hard to keep on top of things. Twice a day (if not more), the hay feeders get filled. A close eye is kept on the water troughs so they don’t get low. I felt like Randy in the movie A Christmas Story, because I had so many layers on, it really was hard to put my arms down! Add in the time it takes to put all those layers on, then remove them when back in the house, and you use up a lot of minutes just with that, not to mention the time to fill hay and waters. I also check noses and ears for any signs of frostbite if the bitter cold lingers.

Lambing and kidding. To add another layer to February, that’s the month that I start watching for lambs and kids. Typically the Shetlands don’t lamb until March, but I have had some ewes lamb at the end of February. This year? Two of my four ewes lambed in mid-February. I really wasn’t expecting the goats to start kidding until the same time frame. All four of them kidded around Valentine’s day, which was right around when we were getting lots of snow and very cold temperatures. That meant we were constantly checking to make sure the babies were staying near the heat lamps and we had more hay to move, and also individual water buckets to monitor. Those got changed twice a day because they were freezing up so quickly. It was a relief when all of the goats could go back to the area with the heated water trough!

Dealing with mud. We’ve come through the snow event and temperatures are rising. Today is forecast to be 62 degrees Fahrenheit and it has been raining steadily all morning. It’s been in the 40s for the last few days, which has helped the snow to slowly melt. It’s been muddy, which means pulling out the insulated Muck boots to keep my feet dry. They’re not as comfortable as my farm boots, but those aren’t insulated and waterproof. With the rain, I need to pay more attention to where my feet are going. Having fallen many times, I’ve found that a layer of mud on top of frozen ground is one of the slickest surfaces around. And it hurts when you fall on it! The barns are still dry, but all that melting snow and rain is causing some flooding around the farm. Hopefully it won’t rain for too long, giving the water a chance to run off to the creek or soak into the ground.

February brings a lot of challenges to keeping our animals safe and healthy, but with the arrival of lambs and goatlings, maybe spring isn’t too far away. What challenges do you have on your farm/homestead in late winter/early spring?

Keba M. Hitzeman is an advocate, baseball fan, caregiver, chicken wrangler, daughter, farmer, fiber artist, gamer, gardener, herbalist, laborer, manager, musician, nature-lover, potter, shepherdess, and teacher. She owns and operates Innisfree on the Stillwater, a former beef cattle farm, where she currently raises sheep and goats. Read all of Keba’s posts in her GRIT series, Returning to Innisfree.

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