The weather models were right this time and my farm is located near the highest of predicted snowfall totals. Granted, 14 inches of snow isn’t completely impossible to handle, but with top wind gusts of over 50 mph anticipated, that’s a major weather event.
Out here in Nebraska we are accustomed to crazy weather, and we’re used to not making the national news when we’re in a blizzard warning. We’re all pretty good at taking care of ourselves and each other, but weather like this is a big challenge on the farm, and for anyone else who has to brave the elements as part of their job. (Thank you to all the folks who clear roads, fix the power outages, work in hospitals and nursing homes, and anyone else working in the weather.)
There’s no snow day off from taking care of livestock. They’re a big part of our livelihood, and it’s just the right thing to do. I remember kind of looking forward to snow days in the B.C. years – “Before Cows.” Now that we have cattle, blizzards bring a big sense of dread. Although, I could never completely look forward to big snows because I grew up watching my Dad and brother worry about our livestock.
Fortunately, today’s meteorologists have many effective tools in predicting major weather events. The storm hit Monday afternoon, but we had been working since Friday to get ready. This included moving cows from winter cornstalk grazing into a protected pasture with plenty of tree cover. Those cows shouldn’t calve (have babies) until March – in theory. The guys moved our hay feeder for our bulls (the “Big Daddies”) to a protected draw where they usually bed down for the night. All of the tanks are full of water, including some extra tanks. That’s the easy part.
Monday was also February 1st – the due date for our heifers (new mamas). Big weather changes often coincide with birthing events in livestock, and we had five calves prior to the storm. (One was an aforementioned cow who – in theory – shouldn’t have had her calf yet!) One problem is that we don’t have enough room in the barn, “The Cow Palace,” for all of our expectant heifers and the new cow/calf pairs.
Fortunately, in the name of the neighborliness that we enjoy on the rural plains, we had a friend who generously took in these five mama and baby pairs to his empty barn for the duration of the storm. This allowed us to keep “The Cow Palace” open for any new mamas who look the closest to having a baby calf.
Here’s another problem – “The Cow Palace” is two miles down the road from our home and we’re worried we might not be able to make it there when the roads drift shut. It doesn’t sound far away, but when the winds are high, the snowdrifts are higher, the visibility is lower, and even the best of tractors can get stuck. (It’s also no palace – just a silly name my father-in-law had given it!)
So, on Saturday and Sunday, we worked on the “House of Mouse,” a shed next to “The Cow Palace” that would serve as my hubby’s home during the storm. This is no Disney-themed shed; it’s a small but heated and insulated building that was never totally mouse-proof. Yuck. After taking everything out of the shed and cleaning it, the holes near the floor were plugged with steel wool to discourage any unwanted furry visitors. We threw down some cheap rugs, loaded it up with air freshener, added a cot, a lawn chair, a microwave, food for snacks and meals, a pile of farm magazines, and a large cooler of water.
In the shed, there’s also powdered colostrum, electrolytes, towels, a blower (to dry a wet calf), and room for a baby calf that might need extra attention. Hopefully, none of these supplies will be needed since the heifers are hanging out in the barn, but even in the best of weather conditions, sometimes a baby calf needs extra care.
That’s not the end of our concerns. With hubby camping out in the “House of Mouse” next to “The Cow Palace,” now I’m left at home with our four sons, our year old heifer calves who will be mamas next year, and some bred heifers who did NOT appear that they would calve in the next few days – in theory. We have two smaller barns for protection for them. If our power goes out, my sixteen year old son and I will be hooking up the generator on our own. If we have an unexpected baby calf, we won’t have my husband’s expert cow-whisperer-ish expertise at our disposal, but we can call him on the cell phone. If you know me, you know that pulling a calf on my own is not in my wheelhouse! However, we do have fantastic neighbors across the road who also raise cattle that I could call in case of emergency.
Some snow day, huh?
Despite the concerns for our livestock, we’ll still partake in some snow day fun. My kids will still be excited to watch the snow pile up. If we get some good snowdrifts, they’ll be able to snowboard down the stairs of our backyard deck. This will be followed with hot chocolate piled high with marshmallows, chocolate syrup, and whipped cream, and just maybe a batch of homemade caramel rolls. If the winds out here in the open country are too high, we’ll wait for another day to play in the snow.
What we do for our cattle during a storm is definitely not news to any of my friends and neighbors from near and far who raise livestock. All of us are just doing what needs to be done. It’s common sense. I imagine many of them would read this blog and say, “No kidding, this isn’t our first blizzard!”
However, if you don’t have a connection to the farm, you might wonder about what’s being done to care for the animals when Mother Nature turns nasty. While every farm and ranch is different, one thing is the same – we’ll always fight the elements to the best of our ability and plan ahead to give our livestock the best care we can.