~ Riceland Meadows ~

Ready for Winter’s Blast
by Ralph Rice

Every Autumn I busily work to complete projects left over from summer. It seems I always plan more that I can complete when I should be getting ready for winter—putting away equipment, rolling up hoses, and thinking about how to keep the water troughs from freezing.

A few years ago I switched to rubber troughs. Now I simply turn them over, dump a pail of hot water on them, and lift them up off the tub­shaped ice cube. These troughs come in various sizes and I recommend them highly. Using them keeps me from worrying so much about winter’s freeze as I work away at my remaining fall jobs.

Last fall we were rewarded with several dry days that allowed me to finish a composting facility, including pouring several yards of concrete. In early November the pond contractor arrived to dig a new pond for us. We had ordered the pond in early June, but wet summer weather pushed the job into late fall. We dug the pond in the bed of a small stream draining part of our farm and woodland. We used the excavated dirt to reshape a ravine and put in a farm lane to give us better access to the back pastures and our sugar house. The pond was finished the day before Thanksgiving, and two days later was full to the overflow.

The autumn rain started falling after dinner on Thanksgiving day. It rained off and on for the next three weeks. Our farm became a squishy mess; the area around the new pond became a quagmire; and our old lane disappeared under 2' to 3' of newly excavated dirt. This sea of mud was a huge obstacle I hadn’t allowed for in my summer planning. Sure I expected a bit of mud, even a few ruts, before freeze­up, but the ground didn’t freeze before the snow came.

Back in July my son and I had been giving each other high fives after moving our round bales off the hay fields and lining them up in a neat rows along the edge. We decided to keep them at the ends of the fields, instead of arranging them as usual near the barn. We anticipated truck and equipment traffic in connection with building the compost facility and didn’t want the bales in the way. All we’d have to do when we needed a bale was grab it with the tractor. It seemed like a great plan that saved us lots of work.

But come December I sat on the tractor, frustrated and red faced from embarrassment and cold as the tractor sank to its frame in the semi­frozen mud. The work we’d saved in July seemed trivial as I tried in vain to feed the sheep and cows at one end of the farm, with more than half my hay waiting in neat rows at the other end, separated by the barrier of a man­made muddy mess.

Thankfully we had stacked a pyramid of round bales and covered them with tarps near the barn, giving us enough hay to get through the worst part of winter, and our horse hay was inside the barn. Furthermore we had made hay at a neighbor’s place, and could get to it there on the bad days. So we managed to make it through.

When we had a break in the weather and melting snow, followed by a hard freeze, we got the far­away bales to the barn using the tractor to load the bobsled and a willing trio of horses to pull the sled. We traversed the lane easily on the frozen mud. In the end, everything worked out, but things might easily have gone otherwise.

Back in the winters of 1976 through 1978, we set many records for snowfall and cold temperatures. During some periods the high for the day barely crept above 0{deg}F . Deep snow was piled everywhere. Alongside the roads telephone lines sat on top of the drifts. Our county was shut down almost completely and national guard was called out. Here in northeast Ohio all winters are now measured by those two.

Last winter if the snow had continued to fall while temperatures dropped, I would not have been able to get my hay out of the fields. Before the snow had melted, it got as deep as the horses’ neck yoke. With the bottomless mud underneath, had the winter been as bad as those earlier winters we would have been in big trouble.

So now, as once again we head into winter, I have gleaned the good from last winter’s experience. I still like the idea of arranging round bales at the end of the field, rather than hauling them all the way to the barn. I am capitalizing on this idea by building feeding sheds at the end of my hay field so I can move the cattle and sheep to the hay, instead of wasting time, fuel, and effort moving bales to the animals. I will place the hay in the sheds, remove the strings, and stack it next to a movable manger that allows the animals to feed hay to themselves. These sheds, along with frost­proof waterers, will make this winter’s chores easier and give me much peace of mind. As usual, having planned to do more than I could complete, I didn’t get all the sheds built in time for this winter, but I did move all my bales to the barn.

This winter I plan to maintain the lane and farm trails by rolling, rather than plowing the snow. The packed snow will provide good access to the fields, with the added benefit of having trails for riding, sledding, hiking, and training colts. And the additional winter work of pulling the roller will be good exercise for our horses.

Ralph Rice's column "Reflections" appears regularly in Rural Heritage. This column appeared in the Holiday 2005 issue.

09 May 2007