Every Winter Presents Challenges on the Farm

The blog I posted doing a roundup of what Mark and Debbie’s farms were like through the holidays as they cared for livestock caught the eye of my friend Elaine Shein.  Elaine & I met through the American Agricultural Editors Association.  She’s originally from Saskatchewan and knows a bit about blizzards and the daily dedication farmers put to work in snow.  Reading about the blizzard as she sat in her warm home in Omaha spurred the following message which she said I could put up as a guest blog.

Hi Janice,

Thanks for posting the link to your blog.  These storms remind me of what my family goes through during winters in Saskatchewan in Canada — and I continue to appreciate them even more, even though I have lived in the U.S. for more than 6 years now.

My family recently went through a couple of weeks of temps -20s to almost -40 F (that was before the windchill which increased it to 20-30 degrees colder). We often get snowstorms, blowing snow and blizzards in the Canadian prairies. It’s a part of life there every winter.

My family’s farm is down gravel roads that often get snowed in for days at a time, and it’s a long drive to get any vet. The nearest city is 45 miles away. The nearest small town grocery store is 15 miles. Yet we have very rarely, in all our years of raising cattle (small herd — 50 head cow/calf, raise steers and heifers to sell), lost animals to the cold. Occasionally there have been some frozen ears, but my family has done all they can to prevent that.

During calving time, my family gets up every two to three hours all through the night to continue to check on the animals and make sure they have enough food and straw, and to move vulnerable animals to shelter if the cows didn’t take go there themselves.  My family has occasionally carried newborn calves even into the kitchen by our wood stove if needed to help them survive the worst conditions.

We have had times where conditions are so bad that my family can barely find the way from the house to the barn … and yes, there have been times over the decades where they have tied ropes together to get to the barn and back through the blinding, blowing snow.

The Shein Family Farm in Spring

My younger brother and dad chop through ice in watering tanks and ponds to water the cattle, push snow against the feedlot fences to try to provide more of a barrier against winds, and have planted extra trees for shelterbelts and put up snow fences to help slow those howling prairie winds.

When we had chickens, we also had to make sure there was always warm water and enough straw to keep the poultry not just alive, but comfortable.

I always felt sorry for my friends who had hog barns and dairy farms — I knew they had a lot more work to do in the cold than my family.

I watched this storm from my apartment the last few days and realized this is mostly an inconvenience for me now, but it’s nothing like what my family and so many other farm families go through — whether it’s every winter, or these occasional “once in 25 year” storms.

Again, so glad you’re writing (blog, facebook, twitter, etc.) about the farm families out there and perhaps helping others (especially in urban areas) understand and appreciate these farmers more.

Best wishes,

The walk from the barn looks so easy in spring, but can be treacherous in a winter storm.

About Janice Person

I'm Janice & this blog is about my passions -- photography, travel, agriculture & whatever else comes to mind. Putting all those things together is intriguing to me…. I can spend a lot of time soaking it up! It's almost always a colorful adventure!

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  1. The Blizzard of 2009: How Twitter Took Us There « The Fastline Blog - December 28, 2009

    […] Check out Janice’s blog  to see  the entire post and see how Twitter took us straight into the heart of the blizzard of 2009, through the eyes of two farmers. Also check out the follow-up post- Another Winter Farm Story. […]