Snowed In

While the weather outside was at times quite frightful over the past couple weeks, we do count ourselves terribly lucky here at the farm. The power stayed on, the ice was immediately blanketed in snow, and all our buildings have stayed upright.

Winds blew a bit and drifted the top layer of cold, dry snow, but they never neared the predicted 66-mile-an-hour gusts in the forecast. Threading the needle through the bomb cyclone in one of the only counties not labeled with a blizzard warning was much welcomed. The wintry situation was plenty challenging enough as it was!

With total accumulations over the past two storms nearing three feet, we found ourselves rather snowed in! Digging, shoveling, plowing, scraping, and pounding have been a full-time job just to reach all the animals. Paths wind, sometimes cut like a trench in the banks, which then fill in with drifts and have to be dug out again. Coop doors that are a step up in the summertime become a step down, as I kick and scrape away the hardened snow in order to open the door for morning chores.

For a couple of days, the wind chill was too fierce for me to let the birds out, and they hunkered down in their fresh layer of straw, happy for a “breakfast in bed” accommodations. But they also can quickly become bored, which usually results in them picking fights with each other (know some people who get this way too?), so once the wind had calmed a bit, it was time to let them out again. The ducks catapulted outside, literally swimming around in the snow in glee. The turkeys waded through, shaking their lanky legs like, “ew, this is cold!,” while the hens just poked their heads out, ate some snow, and called that good enough.

All the sheep have cozy barns and shelters against the winds and weather, but some of them would rather be outside. Their thick, wooly coats keep them warm—so warm that the snow accumulates on their backs, un-melted. They parade about as if nothing’s amiss, unless there’s wind. Then they usually head back inside for a warm-up.

While the sheep are cozy and warm, the chore-goers struggle. Chopping ice in water buckets, excavating and hauling bales of hay, and lugging fresh bedding has kept Kara outside most of the day these weeks. Chores and snow-removal have been full-time occupations. As the hard-packed drifts blew in, she switched over from the plow on the ATV (which can handle fluffy snow) to the skid steer she uses for barn cleaning, pushing back the banks and piling the icy crystals high. Walking the lane from Farmstead Creamery back to our house feels like I’m in the bottom of a snowy canyon!

As the drifting continued, other challenges arose. The hydrant outside the barn is a classic drift location, as the north wind whips across the pasture and into the barnyard. I arrived with my bucket, only to find the drift so high that there was only a 6-inch clearance below the spigot! No bucket was fitting under there, until I dug out a spot for it.

The compounding snow presents additional hazards as the weight accumulates. Some of the buildings shed the snow easily, like the south side of our 1919 gambrel barn. When that puppy decides to go, don’t get caught beneath the ensuing avalanche! Sometimes it takes days to chip and dig away the massive pile, which lands in the path to the Red Barn behind it.

Other structures do not shed easily, especially when first there is a layer of ice. The first of concerns are the high tunnels. Our gothic arched aquaponics greenhouse does just fine because it’s heated in the winter. The lower layer melts, and the snow sloughs off in regular intervals. Other structures like our high tunnels are not heated in winter, and many of them have a rounded Roman arch shape. If too much snow accumulates at the top, the weight of it can crush the Roman arch, as we’ve seen happen to many other greenhouses in the Northland. Kara’s been regularly digging her way into the high tunnels and pounding at the snow from inside to bust is free so it falls off. Sometimes she has to dig the snow away from the sides as it accumulates, so the snow on the top has somewhere to go!

While all this fallen and windblown snow creates challenges on the homestead, it’s also incredibly beautiful. One evening, while locking in the birds, the crystals caught in my head lamp looked like the world had been showered in glittering diamonds. It was incredibly magical. And, as we’ve drifted in and out of droughts over the years, we’re not complaining about receiving the moisture. When it is time to melt, may it melt slowly and seep deeply into the ground, regenerating the earth.

How has your snowy week been? If you have animals, I hope that they have fared well through these conditions. Time to go dig out the chicken coop again. See you down on the farm sometime.