I knew we were due for a tough winter. The last several had really been mild, not much snow, a cold snap or two but all in all pretty mild. It was like waiting for the other shoe to drop. We knew a snowy, wet winter was coming sometime and it looks like this is the year. I thought maybe when we had the rain, snow and blizzard all before Christmas maybe the rest of the winter wouldn’t be so bad. I was wrong.
I know I said I would never complain about moisture but the weather this winter has just about worn me down. After the blizzard in December, when it all melted, and the lots were more than knee deep and I was worried about getting stuck feeding the calves. I don’t really know how long it would take to get a crane big enough to pull me out, but I would guess it would be a while. Right then and there, I made the statement that it really couldn’t get any worse. I am nothing if not consistent, because once again I was wrong.
This last round of measurable snow was a real neat surprise. We only got about four inches, but the wind really blew, and we had some pretty good drifts out of it. That wasn’t the worst of it. Before the snow started it rained. It rained on my lots that had never really dried out from the previous however many snow and rain events we have had since Thanksgiving. Then to add a new level of difficulty it did not freeze right away. I only thought knee deep lots were hard. Knee deep lots with drifts of snow on top of them were something I could not have imagined.
I had become very adept at finding my way through the least muddy, only semi-deep places in the lot. I had learned to judge where to step and how much pressure you could exert before being hopelessly stuck like a saber-toothed tiger — OK more like a woolly mammoth — in the tar pits. The snow took that all away. It was like walking through a mine field blindfolded with a 50-pound bag of feed over your shoulder. Lucky for me it happened on a weekend when Jennifer was home to help.
No, I did not make her feed the calves. Rather, I had her stand guard at the gate and make sure I made it back home. Moral support I think she called it. I made my way across the semi-frozen, not really frozen quagmire. I just about made it to the bunk when one misstep sent me face first into the goopy abyss. Not being able to call for help, and not really wanting to open my mouth either, I suffered silently.
In a moment of extreme luck, I landed in the one place that was semi solid and did not sink in. After a quick check I realized that nothing was hurt but my pride and I slowly crawled over to the feed bunk and pulled myself upright. Standing up these days is not an easy feat, I swear my coveralls weigh over 100 pounds, but I don’t dare wash them and risk bad luck.
Once I regained my composure, I put the feed out for the heifers who were completely unmoved by my near-death experience. Still shaken, I made my way back to Jennifer and the gate, only to find that she had gone back to the pickup to warm up. I told her about my harrowing ordeal. When I finished, she replied that maybe next time I should take a flag so she would know where to dig next spring. She went on to remind me that she had been doing the feeding the past five days while I had been gone and she had not whined about it. “Toughen up buttercup,” I believe was her quote.
The next day the polar air mass did a good job of freezing most of the mud to the point that it would hold this fat guy up and made feeding a little less dangerous. Although navigating the frozen hoofprints and tractor tire tracks challenged my lack of balance and dexterity. If I make it through this winter with all my joints intact it will be a miracle. I some day dream of doing chores not wearing Muck Boots and mud-crusted Carhart’s.
You can remind me of this whining next summer when the hot winds are blowing, and rain is nowhere in the forecast. For now, I have had about all the winter wonderland I can stand. But in the end there really isn’t much I can do about it, I am in too deep to quit. So next spring, after the thaw and things have dried out, if you see a flag sticking up out of my cow lot, I would really appreciate it if you would pick up a shovel and help Jennifer dig me out. That will be an awful big hole for one person to dig.
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.