Once More Unto the Breach, Dear Friends

January 14, 2018

A typical bright Adirondack morning. These photos were taken yesterday at 9 and 10 AM. We got six fresh inches of snow.

I had noticed that the dozens of robins here on Thursday were gone by Friday afternoon when my geese were playing in the puddles. The robins must have known something.

Just before lunch the snow stopped, the sky cleared, and the temperature began to plummet. This morning it is -27° F.

Winter here can be a long siege.


The Cold Has Broken

January 9, 2018

The two-week stretch of temperatures far below zero (-47° windchill on Saturday!) is over. Above is a photo of Moxie and her steer calf, Ike, after ten minutes outside over the weekend while I mucked stalls.

I had known on Thursday, when I chose to muck the damp sheep stall instead of putting up the snow fence in the cabin field, that the electric fence in the barn paddock would be buried in snow. It was. Yesterday before work, I spent an hour post-holing through the thigh-deep drifts to dig out the fence. Not only was the fence shorted, but if that snow melted and then refroze into a solid bank, the calves could scamper over the now six-inch barrier. Thus I had to address it immediately.

The temperature rose steadily all day. By afternoon, the temperature had see-sawed almost sixty degrees: from 28° below zero to 28° above. The wind rose equally steadily. When I got home after work, the fence I had dug out in the morning was nearly buried again.

Carrying rolls of plastic, I waded out to the cabin field and began putting up the snow fence. The plastic flapped wildly in the wind and repeatedly was torn from my gloves. Clutching it with both hands, I had to tighten the zip-tie fasteners with my teeth. I comforted myself (“it could be worse” is my mantra): at least I’m not trying to put up metal roofing! Isn’t it great that I’m not ducking wind-born slicers?

At last the fence was up. Only two months late, but… up.

Here are some of the snow-covered sheep waiting patiently to come in for the night.

Today the wind is even higher, whining at the windows. It will be 25° F today with snow, rising to almost 50° with rain by Friday, before falling back below zero over the weekend.

I will need to dig out the fence again, but after that I should be safe. At least from drifted snow. Today I woke up with some sort of virus, so digging will have to wait.

Too Cold

January 6, 2018

My neighbor Sue took this photo. It’s cold this morning. Not so much the air temperature but the wind chill. -47° F!

Yesterday I kept the animals in the barn, mucking the stalls twice, feeding lots of hay to keep their rumens bubbling for warmth, and allowing the calves in to Moxie to nurse. This morning, since I am not rushing to drive Lucy to her ride back to college and then rushing to work, I may turn the cows out for ten minutes while I muck, so the calves can bounce around and shake their sillies out. I think they will be happy to race back inside. I always worry for Moxie’s teats, wet with calf slobber. Water I throw from a bucket is flash freezing.

The great thing about this deep cold is that it prunes my to-do list. Though I sank the posts five weeks ago, I still have not put up one of my snow fences. During my four free hours in the storm on Thursday afternoon I had to choose between mucking the wet sheep stall or putting up the fence. I chose to take care of the sheep, so the fence is still in a roll in the mudroom and the barn paddock electric lines are slowly being buried in blowing snow. I’ll have to dig them out next week. I’m not going to wade through the drifts to put up the fence at -47° F.

Apart from barn chores and shoveling paths, I don’t plan to do any work outside at all.

DH has a bad cold. I went grocery shopping last night. I am going to bake bread, make a pot of soup, and have a quiet weekend puttering around the house, cleaning, organizing, and catching up on paperwork. I have written a to-do list of only ten items. It’s been a long time since I felt so free. It’s a mini-vacation!

The Big Freeze

January 5, 2018

It is -10° F this morning but the wind is gusting at 40 mph, leading to windchills as low as -45°. We’ve been in a prolonged cold snap for ten days (-29° on Monday), but this combination of wind and severe cold has loomed threateningly all week. Though I don’t watch television, even online I have seen multiple warnings that in these conditions frostbite will occur within ten minutes.

This has been a busy time, with a happy trip to meet our granddaughter in Connecticut plus a return to teaching; I hope to catch up the blog this weekend. However between other commitments I have been working feverishly to ensure the safety of my animals in the cold. The frost-free hydrant in the barn paddock is predictably frozen. I have carried (and thawed) hoses. And yesterday, I mucked out the sheep stall.

The deep bedding in the stall has been wet. I ran out of coarse bedding hay three weeks ago. Rick, my hay man, had promised long ago to bring me some. When I emailed him a reminder at the beginning of December, he did not reply. Thus I was forced to use brown (and thus unappetizing for eating) second-cut bales that he brought in his last delivery. Second-cut hay is very soft and juicy, with few stalks. The animals adore it. Unfortunately, underfoot it immediately collapses into what it is: grass clippings. Every night I would top-dress the stall with waste hay but by morning it would be churned into the damp mess.

I did not want my sheep resting on wet bedding at -30° F. My friends Alison and Tom had some coarse waste hay in their barn but getting it required so many steps. The back of the truck was still loaded with items from storage, plus trash that had to go to the dump. The truck tires go flat every couple of days in the cold and would need pumping.

Yesterday it was snowing and the wind was picking up. Driven by fear of the cold to come, after work I made a list of ten chores to accomplish before supper and forced myself to finish them all. Pump up the tires. Deal with the trash. Drive to Alison and Tom’s barn. Load the bags of hay. Switch vehicles and drive Lucy to skiing. Then muck the deep bedding.

Though it was only the accumulation of a month, the bedding was so heavy and wet that mucking it out took me four hours. I listened to hymns as I hurried and puffed and the sweat poured off me. The contrast between my body heat and the cold meant that my glasses were constantly fogged; I took them off and worked blind. I kept checking my watch. It was almost time to cook dinner. Go, go, go!

Finally the big floor was clear. I spread a thick layer of dry shavings and then hurried in and out of the dark and the blowing snow to the truck to carry in bags of Alison and Tom’s waste hay and spread the hay on top. (Shavings are not helpful in fleeces.) I prepped all the cattle stalls. I loaded mangers with feed hay, carried water to fill buckets, and put out grain. Then at last I opened the back door.

The sheep and cattle streamed in, covered with snow, and headed to their clean, dry stalls. The next few days of subzero cold will be challenging but the worst prep work was done. I could hear the animals munching contentedly. I snapped off the lights and pulled the big barn doors closed behind me.

As I plodded up the driveway to the house I was exhausted but satisfied. It is well with my soul.

The Things You Do

December 31, 2017

It is -15° F this morning, windchill -33°. The day’s high will be -8°. I will probably only turn out the cattle and sheep for a couple of hours so I can clean their stalls, break ice out of their water buckets, and then bring them back in.

That had been my plan last Thursday, also. However when I had called the cattle into the barn, my six-month-old bull, Red, galloped in behind Moxie in a frenzy. He leaned his throat on her stall gate, moaning.


It appears Moxie is not bred. Though this is actually what I’d wanted, due to her tough calving last summer (I will write about this soon), there had been such calm on the cow front that I had assumed she was actually pregnant, bred by Mel Gibson before I sent him to slaughter early trying to prevent it.

While Red is only six months old, he is half Shorthorn — stocky and heavy-boned. The wooden gate creaked alarmingly as he leaned against it, groaning with desire. Clearly he was not going to settle down for a quiet nap in his stall. Hurriedly I turned all the cattle out again, despite the cold.

From the windows of the house I could watch all day long as Red mounted Moxie and a few times when the phemerones were so intoxicating that she mounted him in excitement. Neither one seemed to notice the bitter wind, though Moxie’s son, the steer Ikey, looked glum. My Angus heifer, Flora, stolidly munched hay.

At six months, Red is still so short that I did not think it likely that any of his attempts to breed Moxie would be successful. When at last I brought the cattle in that evening, I was even more convinced.

At a windchill of -46° F, the ejaculate had flash-frozen in an icicle hanging from the hairs below Red’s penis. Over the course of the day and his indefatigable efforts, this icicle was now 8″ long and several inches thick, swinging beneath him like a giant white clapper on a bell.

Thankfully, the amorous frenzy had passed and I was able to close the cattle into their stalls. However I was worried about that clapper. Surely it would not be healthy to sleep on top of an enormous icicle. Yet Red is neither tame nor halter-broken. How could I get it off?

In the end, while the bullock was distracted with grain, I ducked under him and sawed off the hairs with a pair of scissors.

Never a dull moment in this outfit!

A Little Progress

November 13, 2017

Yesterday I worked for four hours to weedwhack the barn paddock fence to raise the charge so the sheep would be safely contained. Here they are, outside again at last.

It took me so long because my plastic weedwhacker blades, normally perfect for heavy raspberries and blackberries, were brittle in the cold and repeatedly snapped off after touching anything heavier than grass.

The cattle were fascinated by the sideshow. I had to shoo off Flora, my Angus, who followed at my heels bucking and corkscrewing in excitement. Though I did not believe she would hurt me, turning my back on eight hundred pounds of explosive energy felt a bit chancy.

Here is Red, my Shorthorn/Jersey bullock, investigating the weedwhacker when I stopped to replace broken blades.

Here is Flora. Her attention is invariably transfixed by food. The weedwhacker and I were indeed interesting but the hay much more so.

(See the chain on her neck? She is so shy I haven’t been able to get it off. This winter when I’m not so busy I will make it a priority to tame her and remove it.)

Finally … finally … I had the entire fence clear and a charge of 4000 volts. This should be enough. A perfect charge is 6000 but to get that I’d need to replace the worn lines. I will, eventually, but not on this day. This day I wanted to get the sheep out of the barn.

See Red eyeing them? Out of the frame, my Jersey steer Ikey was doing the same. Moments later they both ran at the sheep, bucking.

An electric fence is not a hard stop. It only works if the fear of a shock is greater than the desire to get out. Chased by the calves, the sheep stampeded through — putting their heads under the bottom line and heaving — letting the shock roll over their backs insulated by 3 inches of wool. I gathered them back in the barn and tightened the fence.

Once, twice. On the third try, the sheep stayed in. I don’t have a lot of faith in their containment, however, so I will turn them out early this morning and see how it goes. If they are chased through the fence before I leave for work, I’ll have to bring them back into the barn for the day and make a new plan.

Maybe the most reliable bit of progress made yesterday was the eye bolt I drilled through the gate. After about five years of propping the gate open against the wind for the animals to come into the barn, a few years ago it occurred to me to install a hook and eye to hold it. Unfortunately the gate (built for me by my friend Greg in 2004) is semi-rotten. It still functions perfectly but the screw eyes kept pulling out of the weak wood. I had bought a four-inch bolt six months ago but as so often happens in my life, it had been rattling around the truck ever since.

Yesterday I drilled it in. The gate is ready for the wind!

At least for the moment. I don’t need to tell you that next the hook will be ripped out of the post.

A Dash to the Northeast Kingdom

September 18, 2017

Yesterday I did my chores early and set off with truck and trailer for the Northeast Kingdom of Vermont. (“Kingdom” is an odd word to find enshrined in Yankee Vermont, but the stretch of state by the Canadian border certainly is beautiful. On the drive I also passed through “Eden.” The taciturn Vermonter must be a creature of myth.)

I was on my way to buy a heifer.

For a while now I’ve known I was going to move from dairy cattle to beef.  I do not need more than a couple of gallons of milk per week and my time has become more limited. My dear Jersey cow, Moxie, had a rough summer — I must write about it soon — and while I pulled her through, for seven straight weeks (while simultaneously coping with our move), I spent many daily hours sweating to save her udder. Moxie is eight years old. It’s been clear that even with the best care I won’t have many more years with her.  Thus I have been watching ads on Craigslist and debating the various merits of Herefords, Linebacks, Anguses, and Galloways.

In the end I was convinced to go with an Angus by a great deal on a bred heifer — and also by the fact that this little girl greatly resembles my beloved first cow, Katika, shrunk in the dryer.  Angus cattle are from Aberdeen, so I am mulling Scottish names. Here she is in the trailer, coming home with me on the ferry.

Speed, bonnie boat, like a bird on the wing, over the sea to… Plattsburgh.

The heifer stepped off the trailer into my barn with no fuss. Moxie was greatly excited, the calves bucked and frolicked, and I kept them all in the barn overnight to talk between stalls and settle down.

I let them out early this morning and they are cropping grass peaceably. I will get the chain collar off her neck tonight.

A new chapter begins… and another of the big chores on my list is successfully crossed off.