Feeling My Age during Artic Blast

I chose a career change to shepherd in my middle age, and I really haven’t addressed those unique physical challenges. I actually enjoy the physical part of the job and take pride of the fact I can hoist 50 pound feed sacks and hay bales. I took a sheep shearing class and can shear my sheep the traditional New Zealand way and did so until a couple of years ago when my numbers increased to require a professional. But I can shear when the need arises such as illness or before a sale. And I can woman handle a ram or large buck (in the case of goats,) and I can work a day long sheep catching day when we load up the barn with sheep before the shearer arrives. So as we were visited by record cold temps that simply would not leave for about a couple of weeks, I began to feel my age down to my bones.

The super cold air meant one small word, but huge problem: ICE!

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Ice was cracked with a broken hoe that could lift chunks of ice.

We had to come up with a strategy to first keep the water flowing and then deal with keeping the water liquid for the rabbits, sheep, goats and chickens and our few ducks. This added to our…ok my chores and for the length of time I needed to be outside. On some days, the temps did not get out of the teens, some days lower. I would be outside for about 2-3 hours. I pulled into service old coffee cans for the rabbits as their steel tipped waterers froze immediacy and would not work, period. The two sets of coffee cans were changed out daily as one set could be melting while indoors.

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Maizy bunny drinks from her coffee can.

Chickens water had to be replace two to three times daily

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Chickens eager for their fresh liquid water.

and the sheep and goats water had to have ice cracked to expose the liquid underneath. But it was cold for so long, solid blocks result and water had to be replaced via buckets as hoses were useless.

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Sheep wake up to another frigid day.

The ducks were my comic relief as I would create a puddle under the water hydrant and the ducks bathed, drank and played as their pond froze over. Not only did their pond freeze, but the big farm pond froze too resulting in the wild geese standing on it rather than swimming in it.

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Ducks take joy from a mud puddle before it froze too.

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Our frozen farm pond.

Each day, I dressed head to foot in fleece and wool and headed out to solve the days problems. Each day I felt more tired and my joints ached. Some days I just could not get warm and would soak in a hot tub to try and bring my body back to normal. My idle thoughts were wandering to doubts about my career decision. I mean, this is my passion, and I love creating products out of this wonderful wool and I love my relationship with the animals. I did come to one conclusion, I could not have made it through these days without my wool socks. My feet were always warm.  And I resolved to soldier on to produce such a useful, natural and beautiful fiber that has not failed us for thousands of years. No synthetic has ever been created that surpasses wool for qualities of warmth, renewability, strength, breathability and so many more. I just need to step up my conditioning to deal with this “global warming thang” and I intend to.

And news alert….on the front burner is a mission to produce a strong stretchy sock yarn using the Shetland Wool. And even Sweet Tree Hill Farm signature socks. So more on this later. Stay tuned!

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About woolfarmgal

In middle age, had the courage to follow my heart-raise sheep, goats and rabbits and build a business around fiber. In the process, discovered an outlet for creativity. I not only knit, I spin, dye yarn, roving and felt, I also now knitting Shetland Wool socks on my antique sock machine called 1910 Socks. I also design patterns for knitting. You can find my products on my Etsy shop, Sweet Tree Hill Farm. And I teach many of these skills. My bliss is working where I live, having sheep as co-workers and sharing all of this with other fiber enthusiasts.

Posted on February 3, 2014, in Farming philosophy, In the Pasture and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 7 Comments.

  1. I hear you. I can’t imagine the responsibility you carry, knowing you HAVE to go out there and take care of all your lovely animals. All I have to do is go across the yard to my pottery studio. And as long as I bring a bucket of warm water with me I don’t really have anything to complain about. But my 50 year old body is feeling this winter for sure.

    • Thanks for the comment Anna. Sometimes going out-especially at dusk to close up the chickens-bringing more water, and topping off water for everyone else-as the temps are dropping-is a bit tough. But seeing the faces that depend on me brings me satisfaction-and warms my heart even though my body is chilling.
      PS…love your pottery!!

  2. Oh I hear you! This has been the worse winter for us, especially here at the farm. We actually invested in not one but three heated water buckets and let me tell you, that was a gooooood thing. Helped a lot. We are still bucket hauling water because our pumps outside are froze up.

    I think the most important thing this year is that we are looking for ways to make it easier for coming winters. We don’t budget well enough to get a good stash of hay set up, so we were buying it a few bales at a time, each week. It’s about the same cost wise but the problem is, hauling it back from the driveway in the heavy snow is so hard! We will definately get a big order of hay in the nice time of September or October and never again do this bale here and there. Just too hard!

    I’m just making a list of the things that we find really tough and more difficult than they need to be and will do our darnest to fix said issues before the next snowflake falls!!!! Comfortable homesteading makes a lot more sense then working way too hard! I hope we can get some things better before next winter!!!

    Be careful and be safe!!!

    Sherri

    • Hi Sherri,
      Thanks for the comments. I too am looking for ways to improve for next year. This year-a couple of things I did was to build little winter apartments for each of my rabbits so they can stay outside under the pole barn. And I made arrangements with my hay guy to deliver about a month’s hay at a time. We have set up a storage area for this and it helps us plan and save. A monthly hay fee is easy to keep track of. But I don’t have a heating system for my water and need to look into that. The water thing has gotten so time consuming. We have been lucky regarding snow. Have not gotten tons. Glad for that as the low temps are enough to handle. Thanks for the good wishes and you take care as well.
      Kat

      • Oh it’s been rough for sure! I think the next couple winters will be a breeze! At least I hope so!

        One thing that we did and I love is we found a heated dog water bowl at a garage sale for a dollar! That has worked out GREAT for the chickens. It’s not so big that it draws much power and it’s just enough to keep the girls hydrated easily. I wouldn’t use it for bigger critters, but for the hens? Perfect! And we also found a little plastic heated foot spa for I think $2…. that works great too! Might not last years and years but it’s pretty good for even a year.

        Had moderate luck with a basketball in the water trough! The animals would drink and it would bob around and it really did help to keep the water open longer! I’m wondering if a smaller heavyish ball would work in the water buckets… as the animals drank it would just sort of roll around in there.

        We also noticed that we were hauling out WAY too much water. We would bring out the water, the animals would drink well, and then leave the rest to freeze. And then we’d be out there chipping and cursing and throw this huge block out, fill it up, they would drink and again it would freeze up. Since they were surviving just fine this way, we cut the water hauled out in half or so. We found that the animals would drink nearly all of it up and when we came around in the afternoon, they were ready and would take a big huge drink and leave this little bit to freeze. No more chipping and cursing and a lot happier backs from toting all that water just to freeze.

        The bunnies…. well, yeah, that was a drag! We are constantly rotating out bottles and eventually go to a bowl. Alot of angora folks I know, as soon as the first water bottle freezes, they go straight to bowls and forget the bottles until it’s above freezing. We didn’t, but I’m thinking that might not be a bad idea! Unles you have kits, the adults are pretty good about using either. We did the same though, not giving them a WHOLE bowl of water if they didn’t want it. We just watched to see how much they drank in a normal period and then made a mental note to not fill much past it. Helped a ton!!!

        These are just a few things that helped us through those dreadful polar negative nights… Hang in there! I know everyone has their routines and systems, but these things really worked for us…

        Sherri

  3. Boy oh boy. I see all my friends out East struggling with this terrible winter and feel so badly for you all. I’m in the Pacific Northwest so relatively mild and melted. This has been a winter for the records, hasn’t it? A friend of mine just had a ewe and lamb die and one lamb survive and so she decided to not breed sheep any more but learn how to sheer and spin the wool and so I told her about you and your beautiful wool and sent her the link to your site. She’s here: http://thekitchensgarden.com Hope you manage to stay warm. I know that feeling of being so cold that not even a hot bath will help.

    • Hi Veronica,
      Very nice to hear from you and thanks for our comforting words. It has a very tough winter especially working outside in it. And very tough on the animals. But I am heartened by their resilience and I take inspiration from it. The cold has brought to light chinks in the armour, areas I need to work on before next winter. Raising livestock is all about problem solving. Sorry to hear your friend is giving up shepherding. There is heartbreak, but there is much reward. But I get her disappointment. Some days, the losses can be overwhelming and it is not so much about the hard work, but that you ache inside for life lost. I feel that some days, but I look into the eyes of the critters who still need me and I press on, vowing never to forget all who left hoofprints in my pasture. Pain does ease in time. The work helps. And yes, the cold can add challenge over heartbreak. It is part of the circle of things. As without the valley of sorrow, we cannot experience the true joys of the mountain peaks.

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