The Skeleton Crew

Four days into 2019 things on the farm are much the same as they were at this time last year. There’s ample snow, a myriad of daily highs and lows thus far (today set a record high for Jan. 4 in Minnesota, reaching the mid-40s in the metro area while last Saturday hit -18 below) and all of the animals are enjoying hay, in one form or another.

Winter is when we retract and when we have the least number of animals on the farm. Our small herd of heifers, cows and steers, our flock of Katahdin sheep, a dozen pigs, one hundred haying hens and a trio of barn cats.

The most outdoor exploration going on right now is most definitely of the feline persuasion. Field mice trails are easily visible in the deep snow and the cats are frequently venturing up to a quarter mile away from the barn to catch their prey.

We finished grazing the last of our stockpiled grasses in mid-December and so the cows, having no reason to venture further, have beaten straight paths in the shape of a triangle – from the bale grazing area in the south field, to the minerals in the central pasture alley, to the barnyard with the heated cattle waterer. There’s also a small detour to the south side of the Quonset hut where they find shelter from the wind on the coldest of days.

The sheep were champions this year, eating nothing but stockpiled (standing) grass in the south pasture all the way until Christmas. They’ve been on strictly hay for about two weeks now and spend most of their time deep in rumination.

The hogs enjoy most of their time sunbathing in a large mass of over 2,000 pounds of straw, burrowing themselves in deeply on the coldest days, and spreading out exposing their flank on the sunny ones.

Our laying hens were integrated with an up and coming flock of 75 pullets (young laying hens) and after a day or two, they established the finalized pecking order and they are all enjoying solar gain from the clear plastic roof of their winter quarters. They enjoy scratch through the stems to find flakes of greyish-green alfalfa hay, and all have crops full of tiny sand and rocks for crushing whole kernel corn. The chickens seem to gravitate more towards whole grains in the winter than in summer, and if I had to guess why, I’d suspect the act of grinding these grains in their crops acts to heat them the same way digesting grasses in the rumen heats the cows.

Inside the house things are quiet as well. There’s time to reflect on the year passed, plan changes for the upcoming growing season, and (try) and get caught up with house projects that have been frozen in time since last April. The coffee pot often gets filled twice a day when so much time is spent indoors. Fresh homemade bread is more commonplace. Meat, butter and salt are all yearned for and devoured on the coldest of days.

Here’s hoping 2019 is off to a great start for you and yours. Set your sights high, but your resolutions realistic.