I have to admit – I really loved the thaw this past weekend – temperatures in the upper-30’s, sunshine and no wind. And that’s what did it. That combination of warmth and sun-filled breezes melted the snow, transforming snowy tractor tracks to rounded ice ridges, and making every level surface a skating rink. All across the farm, snow crusted over shoals of deep, loose snow and ice crystals. 16-second video: Farming ice and sugar snow
I had to move hay this afternoon, regardless of the treacherous conditions. It was snowing sideways, and every surface posed a challenge. My boots slipped and slid as I walked to open fence gates. Sleet encrusted the tractor’s windshield and doors. Fortunately, the engine block heater did it’s job, and the machine rumbled to life on the first try.
I could’ve never imagined weather like this when I was growing up in the South Bronx. And the thought of raising cattle and moving hay never entered my mind. But here I am, decades later, raising 100% grass-fed beef cattle in western Wisconsin with my husband David. And that means feeding them high-quality hay throughout the winter. (They graze grasses, legumes and herbs during the growing season.)
It was slow going today. A job that might take 15 minutes on a warm summer afternoon, took hours as I carefully negotiated ice-packed hills and crossed drift-filled pastures, often plowing my path as I went. When I wasn’t sliding on glare ice, the tractor’s nearly four-foot high wheels would spin in pockets of snow the consistency of fine sugar. Lovely to look at, but a real challenge to pull out of when I get stuck. And, yes, I got stuck more than once.
When that happens, I use the front bucket like a claw to drag the tractor onto solid ground. It’s an inch-by-inch process that can take forever. It’s one reason I make sure there’s enough diesel in the tank. Funny – the cows love to watch as I struggle.
It always feels good to get this chore done, to park the tractor and walk back to the house, my Corgi Siggy trotting along side. I thank God for my late-in-life journey from city-girl-to-cattle farmer. (And thank you, Dave) I’m grateful for this opportunity to gain a better appreciation for the work life-long farmers tackle every day.