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Cold weather brings challenges to farm life

It’s wintertime y’all. I’m going, to be honest here and tell you all that I still have the blood of a southeastern Ohioan.

The years keep adding up that I’ve lived in Ashtabula County, and I’m still surprised how cold it is, how much snow we get, and how much I dislike being cold. I have a sign in our dining room that says “Forgive me for what I say this winter,” as a pre-apology for my husband on just how much I dislike the cold. He really is a saint for putting up with me.

The last few weeks have been cold. Frigid in fact. My husband took a well-deserved trip with his dad snowmobiling last month, so I was solely in charge of manning the wood burner and the outside chores.

That particular Saturday I woke up at 5 a.m. to add wood to the fire knowing it was a cold night, and it’s a good thing I did. Our outdoor thermometer read minus 14 degrees. Negative fourteen!

The fire was almost out, and the house was cooling down. I wondered if maybe the thermometer was broken and proceeded to dress to head to the barn. Once I stepped outside, I realized that it was in fact, not broken. It was beyond freezing. The bitter wind hit my face and literally took my breath away, or froze it in front of my eyes — I still haven’t figured that one out.

The cattle were curled up in the extra bedding in the barn, and the cats greeted me with their familiar “screaming” for food as they scrambled out of their cozy beds in the hay and straw stacks.

We only have a few livestock right now, but knowing that the cold weather was hitting calls for some serious preparation. Farmers and ranchers all over the country scrambled to clean barns and stalls before the manure literally froze and couldn’t be budged. They threw down extra sawdust and shook out piles of straw for livestock to take cover in.

Their tasks included breaking ice several times a day, checking water heaters if they were lucky enough to have electricity near the water source, moving animals into barns, or giving extra hay and straw to those that prefer to be outdoors.

My parents’ cattle have access to a barn and the majority of the time, we find them down in the deep holler where the wind isn’t reaching them. For them, we unroll lower-quality round bales for bedding down the hill so they have the added warmth in their preferred “safe spot.”

We give our livestock more high-quality forages (hay) to increase their energy to maintain their body heat. During these really cold spells, animals may increase their hay intake by 30 to 50 percent. At these cold temperatures, it’s not just the livestock that we have to watch out for. Equipment, including water sources, milkers, grain elevators, and more can freeze, and one of the biggest frustrations is when tractors and trucks won’t start.

My social media news feed has been filled with pictures of new babies hidden in bedding hiding from the cold, new babies under heat lamps, and several new babies that are taking up temporary residence in their farmer’s house. There have been sleepless nights due to making several trips to the barn in the night to check on expectant mothers and young babies.

You see, life doesn’t stop for farmers and ranchers when the rest of the world slows down a bit. In fact, when it’s this cold, we likely spend more time with our livestock than at any other time of the year. It’s calving, lambing, kidding and foaling season for many right now, and ensuring both momma and baby’s health is our No. 1 priority.

I recently watched a video that was released that portrayed farmers as negligent, irresponsible and money-hungry. That couldn’t be any less true, but you don’t know what you don’t understand. Like many others, my animals were checked on before me or my family ate breakfast.

Quite honestly, they were fed, bedded and watered before I even brushed my teeth or dressed for the day. (PJ’s under Carhartts are a fashion must-have for many farm women).

I wish the world saw what I see. I wish the world understood the heart and soul farmers put into ensuring we are clothed and fed. I don’t have the amount of responsibility that most farmers and ranchers do — and if it was warmer, I’d tip my hat to each and everyone one of you.

You truly are the heart and soul of this country, always putting others before yourself, having no other choice but to put in the work because it is your life, your calling, your passion. You make sacrifices, and always somehow keep the faith that tomorrow will be a better day.

I am proud to be you, know you, work with you and for you. It’s not a great time to be a farmer or a rancher — but it’s about time the world had a lot more farmers and ranchers.

Enjoy the little bit of sun and warmth we are being blessed with. We need it after the last month.

Orahood is organization director for Ohio Farm Bureau Federation for Ashtabula, Geauga, Lake and Trumbull counties.

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