How do family farmers prepare for winter storms?

A Kentucky beef cattle farmer shares how her family farm prepares for a snow or ice storm. This afternoon, Lorelei and I are headed to the grocery store.

We’ll pick up enough milk and eggs to make it through the weekend and fill the car up with gas just in case the ice/snow that’s predicted really hits us.

We’ll put a spare coat and a few heavy blankets in the trunk of the car, just in case we get stuck somewhere.

That’s it. A shopping trip and a few little errands and we’re ready for winter weather.

For farm families, however, there is so much more that goes into preparing for winter storms.

Every farm family is different, but this is how my family prepares for winter storms on our beef cattle farm.

When the temperature drops below freezing (even if there’s no snow on the ground) our first priority is making sure that our cattle have water.

This photo is a few years old but this is still one of my little brother Daniel's jobs, filling up the water trough.

This photo is a few years old but this is still one of my little brother Daniel’s jobs, filling up the water trough.

On our farm, we use a portable watering system so that the water trough can move from pasture to pasture with the cattle. Unfortunately, the trough and above ground pipes that run to it can freeze easily so when the temperature is below freezing we have to go out and water the cattle by hand.

At least twice a day, we run a hose from a frost-free hydrant and fill up the trough with it, just like you fill up a backyard swimming pool. We make sure that all the cattle come up to drink, which gives us a great opportunity to make sure they aren’t showing any signs of illness.

Many cattle farms in Kentucky have frost-free waterers for their cattle. These are permanent troughs that keep the water warm enough so that it won’t freeze. Even though the trough does most of the work, the farmers still go out and check every waterer daily to make sure that they are functioning properly.

Over the weekend, my dad, sister and brother hauled a load of hay to our farm.

My brother, Bud, and my dad stacking a load of hay in the back of the truck. Photo courtesy of Renee Laurent.

My brother, Bud, and my dad stacking a load of hay in the back of the truck. Photo courtesy of Renee Laurent.

We don’t feed hay regularly during the winter because we have enough have enough grass on our farm for our cattle to graze year round.

Sometimes, there is too much snow for the cattle to graze through so we keep enough hay on hand to make sure that they won’t go hungry.

When this happens, we go out and feed them square hay bales twice a day.

On foot, through the snow, we’ll carry bales to their feed troughs and spread them out for the cattle to eat. Its physical, hard work in the freezing cold that often leaves us sweating and freezing at the same time. (Can you tell this was not my favorite job on the farm?)

Throughout the winter, we also feed our cattle a grain feed that has vitamins and minerals mixed in to make sure they stay on a healthy, balanced diet.

When the weather gets bad, we have to make sure that we keep a close eye out for any signs of illness in our calves.

Cattle are very well suited for winter weather but sometimes they come down with a cold or respiratory ailment just like you or I would.

Before a storm hits, my dad will make sure that he has some basic medications on hand just in case one of the calves gets sick.

We treat any sick calves as soon as possible so that they can start to get better. The last thing we want is for the added stress of a winter storm to add to their sickness!

If a calf is sick, they often won't eat so we watch the whole herd eat and make sure they all have a healthy appetite.

If a calf is getting sick, they usually don’t want to eat. We watch the whole herd eat and make sure they all have a healthy appetite.

During a winter storm, our cattle are our top priority.

Even though I’m not a part of the day to day work on our farm anymore, I still immediately think of our farm whenever the weatherman predicts a winter storm.

As I pick up my groceries today, I’ll be thankful for the many farm families across the country who are preparing to care for their animals through the storm.

I hope you will too.


Comments

How do family farmers prepare for winter storms? — 2 Comments

  1. Oh, the fond memories of bone-biting cold locking up my fingers while out trying to feed cattle and make sure they have access to water haha. That is one of those things that I miss and don’t miss at the same time. Riding in a non heated 170 Chalmers with a bail unroller on the back and traipsing the frozen pasture with the unraveling bail… good times!

  2. Great post Celeste. It’s so easy to take extra work and care farmers do every day for granted.

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