|For What It's Worth|
|Preaching to the Choir|
The content of this article is "preaching to the choir," but I want to take time to acknowledge farmers who get out and work in adverse weather conditions. By the time you read this article it will be April, we should be well into spring-like weather and the bitter cold temperatures of this past winter will be long forgotten. I find it fascinating how easily we forget the temperature extremes of winter and summer. I expect the winter of 2009/10 will have set some records, between numerous snowstorms and below-average temperatures. All in all, we saw more snow than normal and extended periods when temperatures hovered around or below freezing. There were a few times this year when snow was falling across much of the U.S. Many of you will remember our Nation’s Capitol received so much snow they had to shut down for a week.
Within Alabama, depending on tracking sources and what part of the state you live in, the number of snow days ranged from two to 12 days. Snow days being defined on the Internet as: "days when accumulation of wintery precipitation is so significant it causes the closing of schools, businesses and organizations." This year even places like Mobile and Northern Florida saw snow and it shut things down. Truly amazing!
I spent many mornings and afternoons breaking ice in water troughs for my goats and horses. The one thing I learned about breaking ice is when it refreezes over night it becomes thicker and more difficult to break than the first attempt. It was amazing how thick the ice would get and impossible to break. I found it to be easier on me if I would remove some of the big pieces of ice and discard them onto the ground. The topic with many clients this year was the number of times they had to break the ice for their livestock in order to allow access to water. Then there were the discussions about de-icers, whether they are the floating type or rest on the bottom of a watering trough they require electricity. I have several types of the de-icers, but never remember to place them in the tanks until the ice on the water is too thick. And, I tend to have concerns about running extension cords across my barn to the water troughs, too easy for a short or a fire to occur.
You think it’s tough for large livestock, try raising rabbits. Whether utilizing an automated watering system or water bottles, the water lines or bottles will freeze and burst. When using water bottles, the option is to take them inside before they freeze, take them back out for short periods of time, then bring them back in. Another option is to use water bowls, but they too freeze easily or are spilled by the rabbits. This situation, along with several other labor intensive issues, is what led me to disengage myself from the rabbit business.
Then there are some farmers who rely on well water. Been there, done that! Despite best attempts to insulate the pump house and install heat lamps, when temperatures remain well below freezing for several days the water lines are susceptible to freezing and then take days to thaw. Following a thaw, one has to assess what water lines and equipment may have broken when the frozen water expanded. During this entire time, the livestock and household may go days without water. Repairing water lines is never an enjoyable task, let alone when temperatures hover near freezing.
Enough about water; during these adverse conditions, livestock are likely to require hay and possibly feed to give them the ability to generate sufficient body heat and maintain body condition. Moving large round bales of hay on a tractor without a cab is a very cold task, but the animals must receive adequate nutrition. If your pastures were like mine this winter, there was little forage for the horses and goats to graze, hay and grain feed were a necessity.
There are hardly ever ideal conditions to make repairs (fencing, electrical, plumbing, etc.), but the cold of winter avails the worst conditions. Cold fingers and ears, and wet clothes and wet feet make life miserable when making repairs.
All the aforementioned are things farmers are well aware of and deal with without much complaining; it is just another task they readily accept. But, many new farmers and the general public are unaware of such challenges farmers face when weather conditions take a turn for the worst. With each year I continue to farm on a small scale, my appreciation for farmers continues to grow.
Robert Spencer is a contributing writer from Florence.