The Dairy Farm Adventures: Winter Aerobics

Posted Tuesday, September 17, 2013 in Features

The Dairy Farm Adventures: Winter Aerobics

by Lee-Rae Jordan-Oliver

My eyes popped open at 5:00 a.m.  Outside the west winds pounded against our house, rattling the windows.  Wind chill temperatures registered thirty-eight below zero.  Pulling the covers up to my chin, I tried to steal a few more minutes of sleep.  My heart thumped rapidly in my chest thinking about my horse, Jazz, waiting for her breakfast and warm water.  Rolling out of bed, I scooped up my winter gear and prepared to brave the elements. 

Ten minutes later, my winter armor consisted of three layers of fleece covering my legs, four layers protecting my upper body, a pair of thinsulate gloves, a hat, a scarf, and a face mask.   A headlamp adorned my outfit and allowed me to manuever in the morning darkness.  Before leaving the  the heated garage, I filled up a bucket of hot water and placed it in my jet sled to haul down the hill to Jazz's barn three telephone poles away.   Our farm dog, Blackie, tried to come with me, but the snow was so cold, he hopped around on three paws, trying not to let any one paw touch the ground for more than a second at a time. 

Eagerly awaiting her morning meal, Jazz nickered when she heard me coming down the driveway.  While she ate breakfast, I used the jet sled to clean out her stall, hauling the manure to the pile outside her barn.  Once finished with the horse chores, I ran 1.7 miles down to the bottom of Westford Hill and back home for my daily dose of endorphins.  Wearing so many clothes felt like running in an enormous space suit.  Twice I took off my gloves and used my fingertips to defrost my eyelashes which were heavy with ice crystals.  When I returned home, my body was soaked with sweat.  Matthew met me at the door and headed to the barn to help our morning milker, Bill, milk our eighty-five cows. 

After driving our two older children to school, my three-year old son, Wyatt,  and I ate breakfast, cleaned up the kitchen, and then bundled up from head to toe to help Matthew with barn chores.  By this time, Matthew had milked the cows, fed five calves, and thirty-five heifers.    Wyatt climbed into the heated tractor with his father and helped him deliver hay to where I was stationed outside the cows' pasture.   I cut the strings and peeled the plastic off each bale.  Amazingly, I'm comfortably warm wrapped in a cocoon of wool pants, down-filled jacket, wool hat, and face mask.  Looking up at the brilliant blue sky and bathed in sunshine, I was thankful our farm wasn't located in Alaska where it was cold and dark throughout the winter months.    By the time the cows had been fed, Wyatt was tired of riding in the tractor and ready to go to the house.  While Wyatt contentedly played with his toys, I completed house chores and made lunch.     

While Wyatt took an afternoon nap, I wrapped up in winter gear and scooted down to Jazz's barn to deliver her “hot tea” and hay for lunch.  Then I scurried to the cow barn and met Matthew so we could spread out a fresh bed of straw for the cows and heifers.  Matthew used the chainsaw to slice open the large round bales of straw.  Ideally, the bale will unwrap like the layers of a cinnamon roll.  However, there were frozen clumps throughout the bale so we tugged and tore armfuls of loose straw to distribute throughout the barn.  Despite the frigid cold, the hair under our hats was damp from sweat. 

 I turned on the water to refill the troughs for the cows and heifers before returning to the house to shower and wake up Wyatt so we could pick up his two older siblings from school.  While my oldest son, Walker, participated in an after school activity, I bought groceries for the week.  At home,Walker helped unload the groceries while I put them away.  Our babysitter, Jillian, arrived at 5:00 to take over so Matthew and I could milk the cows for the 5:00 evening shift on our weekly “date night” in the barn.    Knowing the barn would be well above freezing when filled with cows, I dressed lightly, wearing only two layers on my upper and lower body.  Before going to the milk barn, I hustled down to Jazz's barn to feed her supper.   Two and a half hours later,  Matthew and I had finished milking and completing the nightly barn chores.  We'd worked up another sweat and welcomed the blast of fresh, icy air walking back to the house, exhausted but satisfied with a productive day on the dairy farm.

Farmers everywhere endure extreme weather conditions to take care of their animals and to protect their livelihood.  Throughout the winter months farm animals are totally dependent upon their farmers to provide them with adequate food, water, and shelter in order to survive the constantly changing weather.  Farmers don't dodge the curve balls Mother Nature hurls at them.  They resolutely  confront each day's weather condition determined to tend to their livestock  and preserve their way of life as a producer of quality farm products.  Looking on the bright side, a farmer doesn't need a gym membership during the winter.                      

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