It’s a four-letter word that has worn out its welcome during the past couple of weeks – snow. I’m also worn out from the extra chores snow brings to the farm.

I was just recovering from the extreme temperatures of the polar vortex when from Feb. 10-13 we had more than 20 inches of snow fall on the farm. As I write this piece several more inches are predicted during the next few days.

I’m happy for the winter-recreation enthusiasts. It’s been a couple of years since the local snowmobile trails have been open. The recent storms should provide a good base to keep them going for many weeks.

Aside from being good for snowmobilers and skiers, snow actually has additional benefits for farmers. A good blanket of snow provides insulation to lessen the impact of freezing and thawing in the soil, which can damage roots on alfalfa fields or in gardens.

Unfortunately we didn’t have a deep cover of snow when temperatures dipped to -40 degrees and more, but at least now we will have some protection. A Michigan State University paper said a cover of 6 inches of uncompacted snow will protect alfalfa plants to an air temperature of -20 degrees.

Frost-depth levels vary greatly around the state. Recent reports show a range of 6 inches to a foot in the southeastern part of Wisconsin, 19 inches in Durand and 55 inches in Bloomer. That reflects to a great extent the snow on the ground in the southeast when the sub-zero blast hit us.

Snow also has the benefit of being poor-farmer fertilizer. Snow contains nitrogen collected from the air, which can be absorbed by plants as the result of nitrogen fixation or during the spring thaw. I found estimates that snow and rain can deliver between 2 and 22 pounds of nitrogen per acre each year. It’s not enough to cancel that spring fertilizer order, but one estimate said it’s worth as much as $18 per acre in urea equivalency.

I’m trying to view all this snow with a positive outlook, because even with the use of the skid steer I’ve needed to do a lot of shoveling. An icy base prevented me from driving the skid steer up the hill to our wedding pavilion. So I called on my allies – me and myself – and the three of us went to work with a scoop shovel.

I’ve found when needing to dig a lot of snow that the scoop works better than a snow shovel. The latter is really not designed for such heavy-duty work; it’s meant more for pushing snow rather than digging.

The three of us worked our way up the hill before we reached the last obstacle. Between us and the pavilion was a 4-foot drift that ran for at least 20 feet. I considered tunneling because the top layer had a thick crust, but I was outvoted 2 to 1.

An hour later the job was done — despite myself taking too many breaks. I complained of a sore back, leaving me to finish.

The animals took the snow in stride, creating a one-way trail from their barn to the feeding area. The shaggy Scottish Highland cattle wore the snow on their coats but were none the worse for wear.

We had one casualty. Our light-framed greenhouse could not take the weight of the snow and collapsed. I noticed a little bow – probably more than a little – in the roofline. The next time I looked the roof was inside the greenhouse.

That made me a little nervous, so I climbed up to the flat-roof portion of our house and shoveled it off—-just in case. I had an assist from my son, Ross, who was staying with us for a day.

The next project will be to shovel the road to the animals so I don’t need to carry hay bales for several-hundred yards. Me and myself prefer that we get the tractor and the bucket. I can’t say I disagree.

And we all look forward to spring.

Chris Hardie and his wife, Sherry, raise sheep, cattle, pigs – and chickens! – on his great-grandparents’ Jackson County farm. Nominated for a Pulitzer Prize in 2001, he is a former member of the Wisconsin Freedom of Information Council and past president of the Wisconsin Newspaper Association. Email with comments.