Archive for the ‘Winter weather’ Category

Turbo in trees on road

I’m not sure where January went, but it went quick.  Now we’re halfway through February and it’s going a little slower, but it’s been snowy and cold and a lot of work.  I think my muse got buried beneath the 16″ of snow that fell during the first storm and decided to stay in hiding until the ground reappeared for longer than a week.  Which means she’s still missing, but dagnabit I wanted to post regular so let’s get an update out here and get back to the storyline, shall we?

Like I mentioned, we’ve had quite a bit of snow here, which is not normal.  The old-timers say this is how winters were when they were growing up, back in the day.  Still, they’re surprised to see it come around again and shake their heads, cluck their tongues and confess to being thankful for being old and not having to be out in it.

I am no stranger to outdoor work in every season, I have all the clothes and boots and gloves and hats I need to stay warm and dry, and I enjoy being with my animals and being out in the woods and pastures, this is the life I had imagined.  I’m in good strength and health and have established routines that work well, don’t wear me out, get the necessary caretaking done in a timely fashion and keep me safe.   It’s a little lonely without another person to interact with but the dogs and horses are great companions, I am not alone by any means, I talk a mile a minute to all of them, they know the sound of my voice very well.

So we’re hunkered down for what may become the normal winter storm season, and I see comments online about starting seeds and getting ready for Spring, and the truth is that’s all just around the corner, I really need to stay forward-looking and not get too comfortable in my hunkered position.  Hunkering is good for a time but it can turn into torpor all too easily.  I don’t want to get run over by the freight train of activity that’ll commence in a few short weeks – it’ll probably run over me anyway but I’d like to at least see it coming and get a running start before I have to jump out of the way and let it barrel past.

A post about hay is in the works, don’t let me forget.  Might be more than one, it’s an important subject around here.  My four big Suffolk work horses eat a bale a day – each –  and the herd of Devon cattle go through 3 – 4 large rolls a week.  Hay is front and center on the menu half the year for the cows and the horses eat it year-round.  Why and what and how and is it any good and can you afford that are all great questions, I don’t have all the answers, at this point I’m just seeing what works and what doesn’t, there’s plenty of time to change course as we go.  But for now I’m hooked on it and don’t feel bad because it’s adding fertility and tilth to the pastures, which need it.

Lots more posts in that subject, let me tell you.

Speaking of hay, it’s time to go serve some more, get ’em all munching and crunching.  I’ll try to get back on a regular weekly schedule here, the pace is picking up fast and I’d like the blog to keep up.

Later, friends.



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Stove dog Rusty and Grace

It’s finally feeling like winter, which around here isn’t usually too brutal, just cold and sometimes wet, sometimes muddy, sometimes a little snow and wind.  All those balmy spring-like days in December were nice, and we’ll have some moderate temps here and there over the next few months, but the green grass has withered on the pastures and I don’t go out without coat, down vest, hat and gloves no matter how sunny it is.

We’re heading into a pretty good cold snap over the next few days and the expectation of single-digit overnight lows certainly adds a bit of complexity to the normal routine of feeding and watering and tending to livestock, as well as household tasks.  I’m better prepared this winter than last, but there are still gaps in my readiness posture.  Like the paltry stack of split firewood out in the little woodshed, which explains the empty spot along the wall next to the stove in the picture above.  It should be filled with wood, but there’s not much wood to bring in; so it goes.

The little EPA certified soapstone stove doesn’t need a lot of wood to keep this little place warm, so I can get by with scrounging as the weeks go by, but it would be nice to have a couple of cords laid in and not have to worry with it.

Maybe next year.

What’s more important than a full woodshed?  A full hay barn, of course, and a good supply of well-covered round bales for the cows – I’d much rather have to cut firewood in the winter than be running out of hay and trying to find some to buy this late in the year.  It’s an example of how I have to prioritize my time and energy, there isn’t enough to get everything done exactly when I’d like to; so it goes.

The stove is cranking tonight, the dogs and Gracie the cat are gathered close, I at my computer table; it’s a familiar winter evening scene full of peace and contentment.  There’s much work to be done this coming week, the list is ever changing as time and priorities dictate, but staying warm and keeping everyone fed is always at the top.


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A break from the rains

New years day mud ruts

December was a pretty wet month for these parts, although nothing like what folks down South got hammered with.  I tallied nearly 7″ of rain, which isn’t out of the ordinary compared to years past, but with the unseasonably warm temperatures can you say mud.  Wet clay soil without actively growing grass to use and move the water through it, and not frozen nice and hard, simply cannot take much foot or hoof traffic without getting pretty sloppy.  Thankfully it dries out and firms up once the water stops falling from the sky, so the ruts across the non-graveled pasture roads are smoothing out, just a few puddles remain, some boggy areas in barnyard and paddocks that can be stepped around, and the temps are falling too.  A reprieve from muckdom has been granted.

If the forecast is correct, we’ll have about a week before showers move back in; a nice drying out period, much appreciated by this farmer.

The time in between mud and muck is precious and I spend it as wisely as I can, trying to make the most of dry work weather.  Of course, I only get about half the things done on my list each day, but I’ve always liked aiming high like that, it’s how I get stuff done.  This coming week will be busy.  In between the basic chores and household activities, I’ll be spreading gravel, laying in more firewood, catching up on manure spreading, training and handling horses, moving and sorting the bull from the cows and the yearlings back in, and doing some much-needed equipment maintenance.

Thankfully, the days are already getting noticeably longer!


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Weather in motion

Christmas week rain hillside flow

Rain is usually a good thing, if it comes in normal amounts and at regular intervals.  It’s mighty hard to grow grass without it and it’s one of the main reasons I’m here farming in Kentucky, so I’ve learned to work around it, and in it as well.  But most chores are best done when it’s not raining, which isn’t always possible but is sure worth a little planning and time management to try and make happen.  I don’t particularly care to feed hay in the rain, it just gets wet and trampled and wasted, and shoveling soggy horse poop is about as much fun as it sounds.  So I’m pretty keen on figuring out when it’s going to rain.

In addition to just trying to time daily chore runs in between rain showers, I also spend a good bit of time and thought planning out the week’s activities around rain events and temperature fluctuations, for the same reasons.  For example, tractor work on the hill – laying gravel on muddy spots, staging hay rolls for feeding, loading and spreading manure on the pastures – needs to be done when it’s as dry as possible, and usually takes precedence over other tasks.  Everything I do has to be prioritized and those priorities change as the weather changes.  If they didn’t, I’d get caught battling weather and slogging through mud doing critical stuff, which isn’t any fun.

It helps to have an Internet connection, some folks don’t, they just watch the weather forecast on the evening news, compare notes with neighbors, and get by just fine.  Me, I need more info, and I like it updated often.  This little laptop sits on the table in the middle of the house right where I walk through a hundred times a day, with a browser open and The Weather Channel open at all times, refreshed every time I pass by.

Not only does the hourly forecast help me predict best times and temps for doing stuff, but their little radar app called Weather in Motion is really helpful for tracking storms on their way through.  Really helpful.  It’ll show the past couple of hours of cloud and precipitation activity, and then predict the next couple of hours, which is not always 100% accurate but it sure is close.  Sure is better than not having any idea whether those dark clouds massing on the western horizon are heading over the farm with buckets of rain, or will veer north instead.  Sure is better than heading up the hill on the gator with a couple of dogs to do chores and getting caught in a downpour.  I can’t count the number of times I’ve used this wonderful technology to duck the worst of the weather, it really is a powerful tool.

This morning I’m looking at the hourly forecast and it’s telling me to expect scattered thunderstorms beginning at 8 am.  I usually head up before it gets light, starting around 6:45 (in a few minutes, I better get dressed!) and spend about 2 hours feeding and watering and caretaking the horses.  The radar shows a front moving southwest to northeast, on a track to the north – nothing dead on, just a possibility of getting something from the lower edge of it, so that’s good to know.  I’ll wear rain gear anyway and keep an eye on the sky but won’t be wondering if it’s going to dump rain, it should just be cloudy and feel stormy but stay dry.  Dry is good, especially for the critters that eat hay, and the farmer gal that brings it to them.

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Icy woods and road

This past Friday morning we woke to a world covered in a thin layer of ice, just as the guessers had predicted.  It made the roads treacherous, prompting school cancellations and late business starts throughout the area; even so, there were a lot of people that had to drive on it anyway, for whatever reason, and by all accounts it was a wicked slick morning on the roads and highways.  My driveway entrance looked like a little parking lot when I got back down from morning feeding, with a half-dozen cars waiting for the salt trucks to come by so they could make it up Wilson Hill.

I was thankful that the only driving I have to do for my job is in a 6×4 Gator up a dirt road to pitch hay to the cows and let the ducks out.  Even my little rough road was cloaked in a sheet of ice, so we slipped and slid a little, and I kept my speeds down with a foot on the brake, especially coming downhill.  I remembered to take my camera with me and tried to capture a little of the magic of the frozen moment.

Ice bud

The forest was beautiful, a palette of steel grays, dusky blues, muted mauves and ochres.  All the branches brushed with silver glistened and sparkled against the dark trunks.

Icy woods

The cedars and pines were tipped in white and drooping gracefully.

Icy cedar

Cows, heifers and steers had icicles dangling from their ears and ate their breakfast on ice-covered ground.

Icy breakfast

And the sunrise up on the pastures was breathtaking.

Icy pasture sunrise

Temps hovered right around freezing all day, so the ice lingered anywhere it wasn’t salted or walked on or shoveled.  I cleaned off my two porches and the walking bridge across the creek using a hoe to chop and shatter the thin sheet of ice into chunks that could be scraped and swept aside.  First time I’ve had to do something like that in a long, long time.

Tonight we have a high wind advisory and thunderstorm watch, wild weather riding in on the approaching cold front.  I’ve spent the day lashing down hay, equipment and firewood tarps, putting away loose objects, and generally buttoning the place up for heavy rain and 40-mile-an-hour gusts.

It’s currently 70 degrees outside, and the shop’s concrete slab floor is sweating.  Too warm for January.  We’ll welcome the return of the cold air.

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Snowy pastures on Boxing Day

I don’t watch TV news here at the farm, so my weather information comes from the internet or the national news on the local NPR station out of Bowling Green, KY.  Sounds and looks like today’s winter storm has clobbered some southern and midwestern states, wreaking havoc and even killing some unfortunate souls.  Road travel was especially hazardous in those areas today.

Luckily, the only road I had to deal with today was the muddy road from the house up to the pastures, and the muddy “roads” I’ve created up there.  My top speed today was 10 mph, and I crawled through the mud puddles, so the hazards were few.  It wasn’t even really all that cold.  Tonight, though, the temps should drop into the mid-twenties.

I took the day off to nurse this dratted chest cold that Santa brought me for Christmas, which means, after getting back down from morning rounds, I stripped down to long johns, stoked the fire, and snuggled into one of the reclining chairs under a blanket to watch documentaries on Netflix.  Very, very lazy behavior for me, I must say.  But even the legendary Thistledog needs to throttle back when under attack by the cold bug.  Hopefully, it’ll exit stage left in the next couple of days.

The rain turned to snow around noon.  Big, swirly fluffy flakes out the front window made me feel like I was in a just-shaken snow globe.  I pulled the blanket tighter around my shoulders and let myself go back to sleep.  The house was warm, the animals fed, and my to-do list could just sit there and not be done, no harm, no foul.  I roused mid-afternoon to fill up the water tank on the gator, and made the afternoon rounds up on the hill.  Snow was sticking to the grass, momentarily, and blowing a little.  Cows and heifers and yearling steers all had full rumens and though wet, were fine.  So back down the hill I went, for a little more down time in front of the fire.

The dogs and I walked up at dusk to shut the ducks in for the night.  It was still snowing lightly, but the snow is melting quickly and everything underfoot is soggy.  We’re thankful the storm path went north of us, at least this time.  Grateful for our blessed location.

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Creek high from rain

Over three inches of rain have fallen here in south-central Kentucky since this weather system moved in on Friday.  On and off, sometimes gentle, sometimes a downpour, and it continues to rain lightly today.  An inch already since sunrise.  The creek that runs in front of the house is running high and fast and greets me with the sound of rushing water when I step outside.  Blessedly, the temps have not been at all wintry – 60’s mostly during the day, and mid-fifties at night – so the misery factor’s been low.  But that’s all about to change.

Falling temps 10 Dec 2012

By early morning it’s supposed to be 28 degrees, and will probably be colder than that down here at the bottom of the hill where the house is.  With everything and everyone wet up on the pastures, it’ll likely feel colder than that to the livestock.  So I’m taking a tip from Sandra over at Thistle Cove Farm and will head up this afternoon to unroll and lay out a couple of worthless hay bales (another story, another post) for dry bedding in their paddocks.  The pastures are just soaked.  The little ones especially may appreciate a dry spot to lay on tonight.  They have their winter coats on already, but that wet ground can suck the warmth out of a polar bear, I’m sure.

Down here at the farmhouse, we’re staying dry and warm, with a small fire blazing since the temperature started dropping, christmas music playing, and a cup of tea at hand.   The little stray kitty is snug in her box of rags and sweaters under the porch woodpile tarp, the dogs are curled up in their usual daytime snoozing spots, and I am doing inside work, until time for pasture rounds.

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Brutal cold is making life difficult in many parts of the country right now.  Even Florida is feeling it, god bless ’em, where fruit growers are spraying fields to protect their fruits with a coating of ice.

Just hunkering down in a warm house is a blessing when it’s this cold.  For all the folks out on roads and highways, this weather is a nightmare; scary, nerve-wracking, unpredictable.  And for those whose fortunes do not currently include a warm house to stay cozy in, it’s life-threatening.

I lived with bitter cold for many years, growing up in northern Colorado.  I remember it well, as do my fingertips; they still tingle with memory of mild frostbite and turn white and numb if I fail to protect them with gloves when the temperature drops.  And looking at Moonmeadow Farm’s  picture of her wood cookstove reminds me of waking up to frigid mornings in a drafty logging cabin at 6,000 ft, shivering out of bed to light a fire in the cold, dark mornings before work.  Yes, I know cold.  It’s been awhile, but I remember it.

It is 24 degrees this morning east of Campbellsville, KY at the Farm, and a light snow is falling.  At Ridgewind Farm in Virginia, where the horses are, it’s 22 but “feels like” 10 degrees, and cloudy.  In Vail, CO where Skidder is working the ski resorts, it’s 10 degrees and cloudy, too.

Out east of Fort Collins, Colorado (my home town) where the good folks of Boyles Family Farms  are hunkered down next to the wood stove, it is minus eleven degrees.  Now that’s cold!

In Bonita, California where I am it is currently 45 degrees and clear.  And it’ll probably get up to 75 this afternoon.  The disparity between our winter temps and what is experienced across the rest of the nation is never far from my mind.  I am mentally bracing myself, I think, to return to the real world of seasons that include the discomfort of cold.

Meanwhile, although it doesn’t take much to warm a 1,500-sq-ft house at this latitude, we burn a small fire in the evenings to take the chill off, with eucalyptus firewood bought locally from Garcia’s Firewood in El Cajon.  My little Toyota Tacoma has to make two trips to bring home half a cord, but that will last us well into next year, so the trouble is worth it.  The ashes enrich my compost pile and the labor of stacking and carrying in keeps me from getting too soft.

Wherever you are this morning, bundle up well when you go outside, shut the doors firmly behind you when you come in, keep the fire well-stoked, and stay warm.

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