This winter has been, without a doubt in my mind, the coldest we’ve experienced since we moved to Canada. I can’t say for sure that is the coldest it has been, but in the past we’ve been wrapped up warm inside during the bitterest days. No longer.
Even on the coldest days, in fact especially on the coldest days, there is work to do. Keeping the animals well and safe takes extra work and that means time outside. If a water pipe needs insulating it really doesn’t matter if it’s -20, it has to be done. When the animal water freezes because is it sub -35, well you’d best get out there with a bucket and get them fresh water. It’s simple and at times it is hard.
I can’t say that I do most of the outside farm work because if I did I suspect a large bolt of lightening would come down and turn me to dust. Nope, the majority of it is handled by a burly beardy chap who heads out with feed and buckets and milking machines no matter what the weather, while I am still cowering in my jammies hoping to make it through breakfast and indeed the whole day, without even thinking about heading outside. While I am the lass is charge of the house, kitchen, kids, homeschool and most definitely the laundry, I am only an assistant in the winter running of the farm. I help out but the tough stuff, I leave that to the beardy chap. He’s just so good at it.
But thanks to the work of my very own Grizzly Adams, the farm is in good shape, bearing up well after the month long deep freeze we are just emerging from. The chickens are thriving in the polytunnel, refertilizing it for us and providing us with around 30 eggs a day. They can roam and scratch in protected sunshine, rejoicing when the new hay goes down as they pick through it for tasty morsels and desiccated insects. No signs of frostbite as there were last year, despite our best efforts with insulation and heat lamps. Even the water doesn’t freeze until it hits below -20, which is pretty good going I’d say. They’ll be evicted come spring but for now life is as good as it can get for a winter chicken.
The pigs are cosy too in their house, each day they are treated to delicious scraps, leftover milk, tasty whey and disastrous feta experiments gone wrong (ahem) building a protective layer of fat to keep them snug when they snuggle up in their hay bed together. Today, as I was walking away from their field after providing them with their breakfast, I heard them munching away on the hay bale near their house, munch munch snarfle munch…quite content they were, basking as we all are in the +6 temperature that is rapidly melting the snow and allowing for out-of-house activity not involving 18 layers of protective clothing on the ears alone.
But there is no doubt that the major preoccupation this year has been the cows. This first year of them on our farm, turning it from a bit of a back yard affair into something much more in our eyes, has been a steep learning curve and no mistake. The months of barn building, laying lines, wiring, putting up fencing, milking…the list goes on. There has been so much work involved in keeping these critters safe and warm, but my chap never shirked it for a minute. Even when the water line froze and he had to carry 12 buckets of water out to them in the utterly bitter cold, he marched on. I’m so proud of that, I can’t even tell you.
The winter isn’t over yet, not by a long chalk. We’ve months of cold and snow to come, deep freezes that have not yet arrive that will inevitably chill us to the very bone. We live in Canada after all and this year she’s showing us what she can do. But, just when you think you can’t take it any more (ok about 3 weeks after you know you can’t take it any more) you get a little reprieve. A day above zero that feels like midsummer in comparison; a day where even though you are sliding on sheet ice and quite literally fearing for the safety of your bone structure as you try to find safe footing while carrying 5 gallons of water, you can’t help but feel grateful. To turn your face up to the sky and breath in without your nostrils freezing or your chest hurting, without gloves even, as if such a thing were lady like. A day that makes you linger at the door, listening to the water dripping off the roof and the slow hiss of snow melting, knowing that just around the corner spring will come.