At The Farm GateWinter brings extra chores for animal care
We had only one item on our Black Friday shopping list: a metal poultry fountain. It didn’t satisfy any Christmas wishes, but it was freezing outside, and the chickens needed water, not ice, from their drinking water dispenser. The new container’s galvanized metal construction allowed it to rest atop a heated base. We purchased the drinker with a 20% off coupon, and the kids’ laying hens now have thawed water until the last freeze of spring.
Responsibility ranks the primary reason that the kids raise chickens. Since elementary school, they have understood the obligation of having another life depend on them. And no matter the species – cattle, pigs, sheep, goats or chickens – they know that livestock have no regard for homework loads, basketball schedules or holiday weekends. Vacations require hiring a caretaker. Snowy and sub-zero days demand shovels and layers to handle the task. Raining? That’s why we have rubber boots.
Livestock farmers generally dread the weather events that cancel school, such as snow, ice, sub-zero temperatures and especially wind associated with any of those. When winter weather lengthens chore time, I suggest that the kids put life in perspective. Their grandpa manually thawed cattle water tanks with wood-fired cowboy heaters when he was a kid. He helped his dad prepare cab-less tractors for winter with tire chains and heat housers, or a plastic and vinyl liner that captured heat from the engine to warm the driver. And you had to take breaks inside to regain feeling in your extremities.
Now, energy-free cattle drinkers operate nearly maintenance free and have built-in electric heaters. Heated cabs and four-wheel drive options on tractors make winter chores more efficient and comfortable. Even winter work boots are engineered so well that light-weight summer socks will suffice.
Heavy snowfall today could mean digging paths to cattle, scooping outdoor feed bunks or keeping the electricity on for hog barns to maintain heat and ventilation. Just as the pandemic caused people to stock masks and toilet paper, the record-breaking snows of the 1970s prompted our farm to own a snowmobile and tractor-mounted snowblower, the type that moves 4-foot drifts. I rather hope for calm, quiet nights that keep this piece of equipment in the shed.
About the author: Joanie Stiers farms with her family in West-Central Illinois, where they grow corn, soybeans, wheat, hay and cover crops and raise beef cattle and backyard chickens.