Those of us who live in the Pacific Northwest remember winters past where we would have snow days that lasted a week with totals of 5 feet or more. But new-comers (those who have moved here after 1980) were not exposed to those more extreme, cold snowy winters and don’t remember sledding and skating on local lakes.
One year, the Nehalem River right here on this farm had all but froze over. The rocky bottom had frozen first with the frigid water cascading over the ice and with every below zero night, the ice thickened and grew through the rushing water leaving little more than a trickle of river.
In comparison, this winter is just another one on the colder side, but not near the extremes that this area can have.
Here on the farm, the daily chores that normally can be accomplished in an hour in the morning and an hour in the evening, have stretched into all-day, all-consuming tasks. Each feeding has become a not only a chore, but a life sustaining requirement for each of the animals.
Keeping water fluid for the animals on the house-side of the river is job number one. Breaking ice with sledgehammers in the stock tanks every morning and every evening takes time and muscles as we run the circuit from heifer pen to cow/bull side, to cow with calf pasture, to the two sides of the bull pen, then across the river to the cow with calf housed over there in the barn.
Breaking the ice is only the first step, every other day at the very least, the tanks also need to be filled up with water. The irrigation line, because it runs lines along the top of the ground, has been frozen since well before the first of the year, and is un-usable. Our water back-up supply, the well from the old house, froze up two weeks ago so that one is off-line as well until the pressure tank can once again let water flow.
That leaves us with using the water from the house. The hoses are rolled and stacked in the garage to keep them from freezing. They are taken and rolled out one by one and moved from one pen to the next in an agonizingly slow watering process with only being able to fill one tank at a time from the garden hose. Once the watering is complete, the hoses all need to be rolled back up and replaced back in the garage. The smaller tanks that are farther away from hoses mean we fill buckets to walk water to the animals, this is true for the cow/calf pairs on each side of the river.
On days when we are out of power, the whole process changes from hoses to buckets. Blazing a trail down to the river is first, then driving the Gator down to the edge and filling buckets in the back until we have the bed filled with sloshing buckets before the long, slow drive up the path across the County Road, in the driveway and to the separate pastures that house the tanks. The second and third Gator load finds the bed coated in ice that leads to slipping, sliding and a lot more sloshing.
This extra time that is being spent on basic chores leaves little time for other tasks on the farm. Repairs and relaxation ventures like walks through the woods are all put on hold until the weather moderates. Until then, I’ll roll into bed at night completely exhausted but confident that the animals are well cared for.