Answer: Chores happen! Our animals come first and must be tended to before we can enjoy family time and traditions.
Hooray, it’s Christmas morning! We can’t wait to sit in our cozy house, drinking hot cocoa around the Christmas tree, while watching the kids open their presents, but first… CHORES!
We’ve got 500 animals to feed and they don’t know whether it’s Christmas morning or any other day of the year. They are hungry and need to be cared for before we start any festivities.
Livestock farmers are always on duty through holidays, birthdays, weddings, and baptisms (we once had to pull a calf in our church clothes out in the pasture while missing our nephew’s baptism, but we made it to the after celebration). The same goes for rain days, snow days, and below-zero temperatures.
Speaking of below-zero temps, winter weather brings plenty of challenges in caring for livestock. We use a lot more cornstalk bales to provide the cows with clean dry bedding to help stay warm. And, we put heaters underneath the waterers to keep the water from freezing.
We have to continue to check the automatic waterers multiple times per day for the feedlot steers and cow-calf herd to make sure their water heaters are working and they have access to water at all times. It becomes a huge problem if for instance the wind takes the power out and the waters freeze. It can happen pretty fast and then you have 400 steers in the feedlot without water and bucketing a 5 gallon pail is not going to cut it. And if the water in the pipes freezes, you are in a world of trouble. You must be ready to hook up a generator in these winter conditions.
The feed rations also change in the winter. You have to provide more nutrition in order for the feedlot steers to stay warm and continue to gain weight to go to the market and also provide more nutrition for the pregnant cows in the herd and their calves to be born in the spring. And the same goes for the heifers that are being conditioned to be bred for the first time the next summer.
The goats are often locked in the barn full time when it gets really cold so they can stay warm. You have to be on close “Kid Watch” with them to make sure any kids that are born are promptly dried off and kept warm, which is crucial to their survival.
We plan our calving season to begin in March when the temps aren’t nearly as cold as January or February, ideally for the same reason. We have calf jackets if we need to use them and make birthing pens with extra clean dry bedding.
If you’ve ever been to our farm, you will notice we have a “Community Barn” where the cows, goats, donkeys, cats, chickens, ducks, and turkeys all hang out together. Especially on a cold winter day you may see chickens roosting on tops of cows’ backs, ducks huddled in the cat house, and the cats snuggled into the side of the goats for an afternoon nap. It’s quite the sight to see!! After chores are done, we go back into our house on Christmas morning and take off our boots, hats, gloves, and coveralls, and finally sit down around the Christmas tree. We discover as tough as farming can be in the winter, it can be a magical and serene scene. We look out the window and see the snow coming down onto the cows happily eating at the feed bunk, while the spunky ones kick up their heels and run through the pasture with pure joy…now if only the snow will stop long enough until AFTER chores are done again!
THE BAENZIGERS – MATT & MINDY RAISE BEEF CATTLE AND GROW CORN AND SOYBEANS IN RURAL KINGSTON