By Kim Carr:
With winter 2020–2021 barely in my rearview mirror, I find myself shaking off the “brrrr” and turning my face to the sun. Anybody who really knows me, knows that I am not a winter person. I think if I was not a farmer, my fondness for winter might change slightly. Being able to gaze out the window at the snow and stay inside where it is nice and warm, only venturing out for fun things––well, that would change my perspective some. Just the simple fact that it takes me so much time to put on an extra pair of socks, long underwear, sweatpants, an undershirt, a t-shirt, hoodie, a coat, a facemask, with a sock cap over that and, once everything is tucked, zipped, snapped, then I slip on my boots and a pair of gloves. Now I struggle to get the door open because my hands are slippery from the gloves, and I cannot grasp things like I can with my bare hands. This makes winter a little less than super desirable for me. However, I live in Missouri, and part of the joy of living in Missouri means we have four seasons, sometimes all in one day.
In the winter, I waddle outside bundled up like the Michelin Man. Dressed in so many layers, I have an urge to check the tire pressure on the car. After I suppress my Michelin Man tendencies, I go about taking care of my daily farm chores. Despite multiple days that ranged well below zero here in the mighty Midwest, I never really got too cold because I dressed appropriately. While we had single-digit days and negative-zero temps, we were lucky and the wind did not beat us relentlessly like it has in winters past. So, the cold was definitely cold, but it was not make-your-face-fall-off cold. There is a remarkable difference between the two. It also helps that after over 32 years of farming, I have learned to dress properly, which also makes a huge difference. Admittedly, I do not watch much news, but when I do, it makes my head hurt to watch a reporter interview someone about how terribly cold it is, yet the person is not wearing a hat, gloves, or scarf, and they have on a light jacket that they did not even take time to zip. They are standing there with one hand holding the jacket shut like the weather is so bad it might rip the very jacket from their back. Maybe I bundle up like I do because I know once I get out there, I am going to be out there for some time. When you have livestock, you do not really get the option of maybe I will go out and feed animals today, maybe I will not. In reality, though, I am not a fan of the cold; I do not mind doing my chores no matter what the weather. Doing chores (I am not really sure why they are called that) is almost therapeutic.
Frozen and broken eggs is just one challenge that winter brings. The colder it is, the more often eggs need to be collected. In the summer, I need to stay ahead of the black snakes who find the eggs to be a delicacy.
I love the routine of doing my chores, which have a way of changing a little bit every day. You know what things should happen and how they should go, but with animals, you never really know. You cannot control everything and need to have the ability to adjust and adapt as things unfold. Most days go pretty smoothly, but you never know when a chicken will get tangled up in string from a feed sack or when a cow decides to calve on the nastiest day you’ve had in four weeks––or maybe you hear a bunch of chirping and must find where the babies are that have been separated from their mom. Maybe you move a bag of bedding and three mice run up your arm or you go to reach in a nest box to gather eggs and find yourself face to face with a big black snake snacking on your breakfast.
While I looked forward to the thaw, it brought its own challenges. Melting snow turns to ice. I only had one fall this winter, which I count as a huge success.
While spring, summer, and fall have their challenges on the farm, those challenges are just made easier because you are not in a fight to stay warm and safe from the elements like you must do in the winter. One winter challenge that I always dread is that so much of what I do requires that I take my gloves off. It is amazing how fast your fingers will freeze and become useless. I try my best to keep my gloves on as much as possible, but opening gates, locks, connecting water hoses and such requires me to remove my gloves. I am always cautious when working with metal pieces with my gloves off in the winter. More than once, I have had my hands or fingers stick or freeze to a metal lock, gate latch, or water hydrant. I can tell you that once your bare skin sticks to a piece of metal, your mind will immediately go to the scene in A Christmas Story where the little kid gets his tongue stuck on the light pole.