February 1, 2013 by Carrie Mess
“Sorry cows, I am taking the winter off”… Said no dairy farmer ever.
One of the things I hear from “the Internets” is that farmers don’t work in the winter time. I suppose my recent posts about our vacation in California probably don’t do much to to put that rumor to rest but the truth is that winter on a dairy farm is still a busy time of year. We may not be out harvesting a hay crop or planting corn in February but the work never stops.
In order to supply the milk you drink and cheese you eat all year round, cows have to be milked all year round. Recently the temperatures here in Wisconsin reached -20 with windchill. We still had to go out to the barn and milk the cows. Not only do cows need to be milked all year round, they want to be fed every day. They want to sleep in clean barns and that means moving manure and cleaning pens all year round. The majority of the day to day chores on a dairy farm are the same in August as they are in February. But if we don’t have to do field work that must mean we have a little more time on our hands right? …. Not exactly. The cold slows everything down, frozen pipes, machinery that doesn’t want to cooperate in the cold, taking time to bed the animals more often so they stay warm and dry and taking time to pay extra close attention to every animal takes up a lot of time. The slowdown is compounded by the extra layers, heavy boots and slippery driveways. There is a reason marathon runners don’t run on ice in coveralls.
Winter is also meeting season. Because farmers do, in theory, have some extra time in the winter, it seems like almost every equipment dealer, county extension, farm bureau and ag related association plans their meetings for the months of January-March. Many of us take this time to attend classes and schools to learn. Even farmers have continuing education opportunities. I know that in the next few weeks I will be attending classes on online agvocacy, calf care, mastitis reduction, leadership, farm management and probably a few more that I don’t even know about yet. I will also be attending a weekend workshop for young dairy farmers with my husband, a weekend workshop for Wisconsin farm women and 2 big agriculture trade shows. In addition to the off farm meetings, plenty of on farm meetings will be going no as well. This is the season where we meet with our seed suppliers, crop consultants, and other key people to plan what crops we will grow and in which field for the year.
What about that vacation thing? The cold weather means some of us can get a chance to take a little break from the 7 day work week we have the rest of the year and get our vacation on… that is if we can find people to do all of the chores on the farm for us. Hubs and I are lucky to have people we trust to take as good of care of the cows as we do. Our vacation days may be limited in the future as our responsibilities on the farm grow but we also know that it’s important to recharge our batteries and take a little time for our marriage away from the farm.
So don’t let anybody fool you and say that farmers don’t work in the winter. We may have a little bit of extra time but there is still plenty of work to get done everyday.