This is our third winter on the farm and, I have to say, is different to the others in many ways. This year we have more animals to look after through the winter, much more responsibility and things that have to be done. Gone are the days of a quick chicken chore run and back to the fire, these days there is milking, pig chores, a large flock of chickens, a wood furnace to be stoked…and that’s before we start breakfast.
Despite working furiously all summer and fall there just never seems to be quite enough time to get everything prepared, there is always work left over, jobs not quite finished, things we really wanted to get done but…well time runs out. This year it seems to have run out rather abruptly with the coldest December that I can remember since we lived in Canada. Weather that we normally wouldn’t see until January made it’s appearance at the end of November and shows no sign of abating. For the last week we’ve been heading out into sub -20C temperatures, with today being a lovely -38C. Ah Canada, how you love to winter it up.
I don’t want to complain because we love our life here, but winter farming can feel like a lot of work. Things go wrong (like water lines freezing when it hits -30), snow piles up and things are just a lot harder. Did you know milking machines really don’t like cold weather? Did you know that the inside of your nose will freeze when it gets below -20? Did you know that pigs absolutely refuse to get their own breakfast no matter how many times you tell them where the feed bin is? Did you?
Ah well, such it is and somehow in the midst of it all there is also a grim satisfaction. There is the feeling of knowing that this is good work, the kind that makes your body better, that makes your spirit stronger, that makes your life a bit more meaningful. Because if we don’t go out and feed the animals, they don’t get fed. If we don’t decide to spend the day before a storm stacking hay bales outside the cow barn to block the wind (even though it was -35C with a frostbite warning) then no magical pixies will come and do it for us. If we don’t crack the ice off the pig’s water and haul out buckets of warm water mixed with tasty whey, well there will be some extremely unhappy pigs in the pig pen. This work matters, it is necessary.
This morning, while Stephen was freezing himself senseless doing milking in the cow barn, I took down the pig’s breakfast, trekking through the ever piling snow. As I walked, tucking my chin into my coat to stave off the burning cold air, I noticed that the snow was turning pink. I turned to face the blooming dawn and saw the sky stained rose, the clouds lit up by the climbing sun. The world glowed, ruby and glistening. I stood for as long as I could, banishing the cold with sheer determination, I stood and looked at it all and soaked it in. As the air frosted the inside of my nose and frigid breezes bit my cheeks, I felt happy to be doing this winter work, this necessary work, this work of life.