Winter - farm style

By Patricia Grotenhuis, Lifelong farmer and agricultural advocate

Winters are hard, no matter what your job is.  Growing up on a farm, winter meant being outside even on the nastiest of days.  We always knew there would be extra chores in the barn that could include such “glamorous” tasks as thawing out water lines, chipping ice off of the free stall floors so cows didn’t slip and putting extra straw down for the animals who were outside.  Sometimes it was lunch time before we even got in for breakfast, or we would have to go in when there were still a few jobs to do to thaw out and find warmer or drier clothes, then leave the comfort of the house to brave the elements again.

Snow days from school never meant a holiday for me, or other farm kids I know.  Instead, it meant getting up even earlier so we could go help take care of the animals.  We would hear busses were cancelled, and think of all of our warm, cozy, non-farming classmates who would spend the day sleeping in and lounging around the house as we bundled ourselves and opened the door to get hit in the face by an icy wind.

Struggling against the wind and slipping on ice, we would make our way to the barn, normally thinking at least once “why am I doing this again?”  But, once in the barn, the wind wasn’t assaulting us and taking our breath away any more.  The more we worked, the warmer we got, and sometimes some of those extra sweaters and vests even came off and were hung by the door to be put on before going back outside.  We would all work hard, because we knew the harder we worked, the warmer we got, which was much better than sitting around complaining about the Canadian climate.

There was always a lot of teamwork on the cold days, too.  We knew the sooner we got the jobs done, the sooner we could get in for a hot chocolate and some food by the wood stove.  Watching the animals enjoy their food, water and fresh bedding was always nice.  The barn would feel a lot warmer than outside with the body heat of all of the different animals.  In reality, by the end of doing the chores in the barn, we were all quite comfortable.  Then reality (or that icy wind) would hit us in the face again as we went to take care of the animals outside. 

There were always wind blocks and shelters for the hardy animals that were outside, like the beef cattle.  Strings would be frozen to the bales of straw we were trying to spread - the general rule of thumb was the colder the day is, the longer chores will take.

Getting into the house after chores was always such a shock to our systems.  It never took long for the wood stove to heat up the kitchen, and our cold, wet barn clothes would be spread around the wood stove to dry.

Things haven’t changed very much since I was in school.  I may stay inside now with our toddler and newborn baby, but I know my husband and father-in-law are braving the cold to make sure our animals are well cared for.  As soon as my husband comes in, I know he’ll go straight for the coffee pot, and then into the warmest room of the house, until it is time to check the barns again.

Oddly enough, I miss going out to the barn on cold winter days.  That blast of cold wind when you force the door open, your lungs hurting from breathing in the cold air, thinking it would take all day to get warm again, and then finding the peace of being in a barn surrounded by warm cattle and protected from the wind.  Knowing those animals depend on you to keep them comfortable and happy always made me forget my own discomfort  and seeing how they react to us being in the barn was always  rewarding.

When you are a farmer, you are always a farmer, 24 hours a day, seven days a week, 365 days a year. It is something so deep inside of you that you cannot get away from it completely.  Until our boys are older and I am back out there working alongside my husband every day, I will never look at a barn without the memories of years of hard work and gratification of seeing the animals thrive, and will remember that even on the coldest days, that barn is a nice place to be.

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Posted by OFAC on February 8th, 2011 :: Filed under Animal care,Beef cattle,Canada,Dairy cattle,Farm life,Weather
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2 Responses to “Winter - farm style”

  1. Crystal Cattle
    February 8th, 2011

    Great post. I agree with you. I have an office job, but miss going out in that cold weather. I live for the weekends that I get to spend on my boyfriends farm. I am a Canadian farm girl too, but made my way south to the Midwest. crystalcattle.com is my blog, and highcountrycattle.blogspot.com is my family’s blog.

    One day you’ll have lots of great help from those little ones.

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