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.

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Qualified!

January 8, 2018

In Minnesota, the sub-zero weather was so bitter that several races had to be canceled. (That is Lucy’s breath frozen to her face.) Nevertheless, she qualified for the team going to the biathlon Junior World Championships, in Otepää, Estonia!

Her shooting wasn’t where she wanted it to be but her skiing speed kept her high in the rankings (racers ski penalty laps for missed shots). Qualifying for the team was a feat, especially considering that these were her first real biathlon races on snow.

Unfortunately, between expenses and timing it is unlikely Lucy will be going to Estonia in January. Her goal is to qualify for and compete at the college championship ski races (NCAAs), which are held only a day or two later in the United States. Biathlon has the potential to be a great opportunity for her but it is one that will wait. Though Lucy will continue to train and strive to improve, for now the college circuit is her primary focus.

I really understand very little about sports but it makes me happy indeed to see my girl rewarded for her gritty dedication, day after day for years.


Meeting Our Grandbaby!

January 7, 2018

A week ago, on New Year’s Day, DH, Lucy, and I finally were able to drive the 4.5 hours down to Connecticut to meet Amelie (and incidentally, have a small, late Christmas with Jon, Amanda, and Judy).

Getting away felt very fraught. Lucy returned from Minnesota at 3 AM. The temperature plummeted to -29° F. Even doing barn chores before dawn, I wasn’t sure how to manage the animals and the dogs in my twelve-hour absence . . . in the cold . . . on a holiday. After a month of worry at work, my stress-o-meter was maxed out. However our wonderful friends Alison and Tom stepped in to walk the dogs and take care of the sheep and cattle. “Go!” said Alison firmly. “We will be fine! You need to hold that baby!”

As usual, Alison was absolutely right.

As I examined Ami’s tiny perfect eyebrows and ears and hands — ten fingers, what a miracle! — I could feel all my tensions slipping away.

After a bottle of breast milk, Ami fell asleep.

Bliss!

I forced myself reluctantly to share the joy. Lucy is extremely excited to be an aunt.

Though equally excited to be a grandfather, DH is not a natural with tiny babies. He generally has an eager but slightly worried look.

When Ami burped up some milk, I had an excuse to swoop in.

This small scene felt so deeply familiar, I kept having the strange sense that somehow time had folded in on itself — that it was thirty years ago, DH was my father and I was my mother. Somewhere in a not-yet-unpacked box there is a photo of Dad eagerly, nervously holding newborn baby Jon, and one of my mother holding Jon, looking down, and beaming.

It is a great thing to be part of the wheel of time.

I simply love being a grandma.


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.

What?

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!


More Doting Grandma

December 30, 2017

Yep, clearly I’m going to be one of those grandmas. But doesn’t Amanda look like a madonna in this photograph?

This one is a little fuzzy but the love it shows makes my heart brim.

Finally, dimpled Miss Ami herself. Of course these smiles at two weeks are “just gas” but I melt anyway.

My cough has improved and we hope to drive to Connecticut on Monday!