I hate ice. Yes, my mother always told me that hate was a strong word and it was more proper to say that you strongly dislike something. Sorry, Mom.
My feelings toward ice as a weather event is more than strong dislike. I hate ice on the ground. I would be just as happy if I never see another ice storm in my lifetime. It is dangerous and hard to get anything done when there is a coating of ice.
I think it is no secret that I am less than graceful, and my sense of balance is probably highly influenced by the sack of feed I carry around my middle. I don’t care if you are an Olympic figure skater — ice-covered ground is nearly impossible to navigate or at least navigate safely.
We have now had two rounds of ice in a short period of time. Other than the power being out for an hour or so, they really did not create much in the way of havoc at an upper level. However, on the ground we have had a solid sheet of ice for a couple of weeks now. I, for one, am tired of walking like a penguin.
We are in the middle of lambing, and that means regular and frequent trips down the hill to the pens and lambing barn. Yes, I said down the hill. Our house sits on a steep hill. It’s not that tall but the drop-off from the house to the barn is rather significant, especially if it is covered in a thick layer of ice. Couple that with the need to go out a couple of times a day in the dark, and it can be quite treacherous to check the ewes.
In the past, the trip down to the barn required either a very dangerous slide down the steep part of the hill and the direct path to the barn or a circuitous meandering through the yard and across the driveway. The last option was the safest, but it still required a perilous crossing of the ice-covered driveway. That could at least be done where it was flat and narrower.
I say in the past, because this year we are using our UTV to drive from the garage to the lambing barn (about 50 yards). This is because 1) the UTV seems to do better on ice and, most importantly, 2) the insurance deductible on the UTV is much lower than the one on either Jennifer or myself. And we can get parts faster than we can heal.
I must admit that it does seem to be kind of silly to drive 50 yards, but I am approaching the age where it is more important to work smarter.
Once at the lambing barn, we still have to make a trip down the hill to the ewe pens. Heaven forbid we have a ewe with a lamb, then we have to herd her and carry her lamb up the steep, ice-covered slope and across the slick concrete pad the lambing barn sits on. I often use spicy language hoping that will melt the ice, but it doesn’t.
Then there are chores. There is nothing better than carrying two five-gallon buckets on ice into a pen of hungry sheep. Think of it like being on roller skates while someone rolls bowling balls at you — lots of bowling balls. When that is done, there is the task of carrying the axe down the slippery slope to break the ice in the water tanks. Carrying an ax on ice is something that sends alarms off in my mind every time I do it.
That would seem to be the most dangerous part of my morning chores on ice, but leave it to me to find new and creative ways to make even the most mundane task dangerous. After I finish the sheep chores, I start on my cattle chores. I drive around to check cows. That is a challenge when the roads are slick, but all went well. It was when I stepped out of the truck to break ice for my bulls that it caught up to me.
I jumped out of the truck and right on to a patch of pure ice. Up went my feet, and I slid under the pickup. Luckily, it happened on a weekend, and Jennifer was with me. After a moment, (I am sure she was stunned by shock and I really didn’t hear laughter) Jennifer managed to ask if I had hurt anything. A quick check and a moment of appreciation for thick winter clothes and I assessed the damage. Nothing hurt but my pride.
Something had to be done to ensure my safety, so I went home and took drastic measures. I ordered a set of spikes to go on our boots. Will they work? I don’t know, but I do know my luck, and I promise you that because I am prepared, we will not have any more ice this winter. You are all welcome.
Glenn Brunkow is a fifth-generation farmer in the Northern Flint Hills of Pottawatomie County in Kansas. He was a county Extension agent for 19 years before returning to farm and ranch full time. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.