By Renee Robinson-Seelye
Typically each year when January rolls around, I feel pretty confident with our farm system to tackle the weather we are about to face. 2019 has been slightly different with the forecasted negative temperatures. My nerves reacted to the high temperature of only -12 degrees printed on the screen of my phone, -12 degrees due to settle over this land within the next 24 hours. My nerves are reacting to the blowing winds that are whipping snow around right at this moment, partly due to the suspenseful and overly dramatic dialect that our weathermen use now, and partly due to the unknown of such low temperatures. I am luckily nestled in this warm house with my children -in another couple hours I may be singing another tune, dreaming of adventures on the outside, but it is early and the kids are rested and pleasant- As I sit here with my warm coffee, I can’t help but think about my husband and our friend feeding and watering the animals, my parents and coworkers traveling to the farm for work, and our animals that we work hard to protect.
Some of the challenges I think about are frozen waters, snow covered lanes, windchill, and keeping the inside of the barns and shelters dry.
In order to eliminate frozen waters in these temperatures, all of our animals are in our winter fields with access to Mira fount water tanks. These use the energy from the ground to keep warm, however, they still need some help in freezing temperatures.
When I was younger one of the jobs for me was to help chisel out frozen waters. I was the slowest at this job, at most jobs I think, because I was the youngest of four siblings, wasn’t as strong as the rest, and had quite the imagination. Instead of focusing on the task at hand and driving through the ice with strong thrusts continuously, I’d stop to greet the pigs heading my way, daydream about my life as a grown up, or create songs in my head telling the story of what I was doing, instead of actually doing them. It was a challenge for my family. I’d chisel one water out in the same time as they would complete most of the chores. That specific task always seemed so daunting, unpleasant and time-consuming to me. So when I asked my husband how it was going this week with frozen waters, I was very happy and surprised to hear that he hasn’t had much trouble at all. He places metal shelters over each tank in order to keep the wind from penetrating through the lid which has eliminated most freezing and removed the need to use a chisel.
He also connected with my Dad about the looming temperatures in order to feel even more prepared about the windchill. It is a pure blessing to be able to consult with farmers who have more experience than you. There is no better way to learn about the challenges of farming than to experience them yourself. However, if we can get a glimpse into someone else’s trials and errors within forty plus years of farming, we will certainly be ahead of the game. Nick and I are blessed to have experienced farmers on both sides of our family’s to help us collect and create a library full of helpful tips from the past.
When I worry about the weatherman’s forecast, my husband eases my mind with his confidence. We’ve been raising animals outdoors for generations now, and it may not always go as planned, but creating and implementing a good plan for this weather is a great defense.
We plan on feeding our animals double today, so they can bulk up on their food intake and rest tomorrow when it is suppose to be the coldest in history. We plan to allow extra time to make sure the snow is removed from all the lanes in case of emergencies. We plan to add extra dry bedding to all huts and barns everyday, which creates mounds of layered straw that the animals burrow into during extreme temperatures to stay warm and cozy. We plan to close each shelter to only the width of a pig to increase their windbreak which will retain the warmth inside even more. We plan to check on our birthing mamas often, and make sure they are nested in their insulated shelters while they give birth. And we plan to take more breaks inside warm vehicles or buildings as we work in order to protect ourselves from the elements.
Winter of 2019, we are ready. Our animals are naturally comfortable withstanding winters in Michigan, and so are we.