ten below

Sunday, February 2, 2014:

   In sub-zero weather you have to suit up for chores like an astronaut going on a spacewalk.  Flannel-lined blue jeans, two pairs of socks — the inner one cotton, the outer one wool — three layers of shirt and sweater, insulated coveralls, chore boots, two scarves, hat, glove liners and gloves.  Then, if you keep moving, only your fingers and toes freeze, unless your scarf comes down and then your nose and ears get nipped, too.  Having learned something with the last really cold snap we ran a lane fence up to the machine shed and spread some hay for the dry cows.   Step-in posts don’t drive into ground frozen to the hardness of triple steel.  We got a hammer and poker from the workbench in the barn and pounded holes an inch deep in which to balance the fence posts, hoping they would stay in place when the wind got up, but not knowing for sure, and our fingers froze so we didn’t care too much either.  Stripping off gloves and jackets to milk at ten-below testifies to our innate optimism, since reason didn’t really back up the assumption that we wouldn’t freeze to death before we could get them back on.  Our fingers froze to the strip cup and milking bucket, and so did the first zings against the stainless steel when the cows, after prolonged massage, finally let down their milk.  Milk chilled so fast that the streams churned grains of butter in the bucket, making the milk hard to filter when we finally got it up to the house.

   It has been cold.

   On the credit side of the ledger, the grass is holding out, and so is the hay, so far.  The sheep, calves and pony get three or four bales a day, and when it drops below ten degrees or so the lactating cows get hay, too.  The dry cows got a round bale for the duration of the really low temps last week, and finished it out today, in the drizzle of a thirty-four degree heat wave.  There is still almost all the trashy stuff behind the lane for the dry cows to trample and graze – probably two weeks’ pasturage, maybe more – and then all the grass north of the Mary garden and the soccer field.  The lactating cows are two-thirds of the way over the hermitage pasture, and may be there another three weeks; then they can go behind the soccer field with the dry cows.  With the hay we have still in the barns, we should make it to April 15 at least, and, hopefully, still have some bales to put out when they go onto green grass and need something brown to slow down their GI systems.

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