Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Break Out the Mitts!

It was 27o this morning at dawn – not too bad for a winter day in Montana.  A gentle breeze was blowing, and there were patches of blue sky as the sun came up.  I went about my feeding as usual.  In fact, I got a little too warm as I loaded up the pickup, and actually broke a bit of a sweat.
But the clouds were closing in, and snowflakes began to fall. My hands got cold as I put off the last load of hay.  The weatherman was calling for snow and much colder – it was time to put out some straw for the cattle.

The loader tractor was in the calving shed – I would need it to load the big square straw bales that weigh 800 pounds apiece.  The temperature had been falling all morning - before setting out for the shed I swapped my gloves for mitts.

My winter mitts are elk-hide, with wool knit liners.  This is the first time I’ve worn them this winter.  But it is a half mile walk down to the shed where the tractor was parked, and it would be colder driving the tractor back.

I don’t believe in walking – that’s why God made horses.  But it would take more time to catch a horse than it would to walk down to the shed.  Imagine my disgust when the tractor refused to start and I had to walk all the way back!

On the next trip I took a pickup so that I could jump the tractor.  This time it started, and I drove the tractor back to the shop.

By noon the temperature was down to 5 above.  No wonder my hands were cold, and no wonder the tractor wouldn’t start.

After lunch I put a set of chains on the tractor, and swapped the bucket for a set of bale spears.  This rig was two-wheel-drive, and it was helpless in the snow without chains.  As two-wheel-drive pickups had been good enough for some 50 years, this tractor had been good enough for the last thirty-some.  But as all the newer pickups are four-wheel-drive, so are all the newer tractors -and with cabs to boot.  I had bought a used one a few years back - but now when I needed it, my four-wheel-drive tractor was in the shop.

With tire chains and bale spears mounted, I drove the tractor out to the straw-stack.  Now I had to walk back to the calving shed to retrieve the pickup I had used to jump the tractor.  That tallies up to about two miles I had to walk today!

It was down to zero with a swift breeze when I arrived in the first field with my load of straw.  The heifers came a-running.  They had cleaned up all their hay, and were looking for more.

I had given them a pretty stout feed that morning, and the hay was enough to satisfy their nutrient requirements.  But with the falling temperature they needed more fuel in order to stoke their internal furnaces.  Straw isn’t very nutritious, but the heat of digestion helps keep the cattle warm.  I gave them plenty so that they could bed down on whatever they didn’t eat, and thus insulate their bottom half from the frozen ground.

What snow we received earlier in the winter has all melted or blown away, and the fields are mostly bare.  What little snow we had today hasn’t amounted to much thus far.  But the temperature was at 5 below this evening, and will continue to drop through the night.  I am satisfied, however, that I have done what I can for the cattle.  They have full bellies and warm beds – just the same as me.

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