Emerging from winter hibernation

Can you see it? The morning light has changed. I don’t exactly know when it happened, but I can tell that Spring is here (ignore the snow on the ground!). At one point, we were milking the cows in the dark, both morning and night. Now, our morning milking is kissed with a little coral sunrise.

IMG_6188Those frigid weeks were an adventure. It can take about an hour and a half to do the animal chores; milking, hay, water, feed, eggs, and general barnyard conviviality. When it’s -15 degrees out, it’s really important to milk quickly. We milk by hand, and with Jersey cows (who have notoriously short teats) our ring and pinky fingers just kind of hang out waving around cold, while the rest of the hand is busily trying to get as much milk out of that udder. I found that if I gooped my whole hand up with lotion or coconut oil, it would slow the eminent frostbite of the two extraneous digits on each hand.

For my morning chores, I would layer up with merino long underwear, flannel pj pants and then a pair of ‘Sherpa’ lined Carhart pants (think knobby fleece lined canvas pants that weigh 20 lbs and can stand up on their own). Then a flannel shirt with a merino sweater, a sweat shirt, a scarf to cover my nose, and a winter work coat on top of it all. Of course I donned two pairs of gloves too. I could hardly walk, let alone, bend down and milk cows for a half hour. Greg dresses just about the same for his arctic evening chores, but with more pairs of socks.

Luckily, we have a semi-trusty golf cart. We load it up with our milk buckets, iodine water and milk can. When there was an arctic chill in the air, my eyeballs almost froze, the snot dripping out of my nose froze. It’s really cold. I quit wearing my glasses outside because they would freeze my to my face.

So, we (Greg or I, depending on whether it’s morning or evening chores), would jet out to the barn on our golf cart, and get inside as quickly as possible. It’s actually tolerable once we were out of the wind. The cows and their bedding warmed it up a bit too, I’m sure. First we fed Socks, the cat. He’s a cuddly gray and white guy that likes to be pet, but not so keen on being held. Our resident mouser. Then we go up to the hay loft and toss straw and hay down through the shoot. Socks has a sweet hay castle upstairs that he burrows into during the long arctic nights.

The sheep yell at us until we give them fresh flakes of hay (they are quite picky eaters and seem to only eat 1/16 of what we give them, strewing the rest all around their stall). We toss a few flakes into their feeders to keep them quiet.

Then we give the cows a small incentive of organic oats and corn to come into the milking stanchions. They greedily slurp up their treats and then patiently graze their hay and chew their cud while we go about the business of milking.

After about 15 minutes of hand milking and freezing pinky fingers, we are done with the cows and ready to move onto the fowl. Let the hens out, give them more grain and water, feed and water the guinea hens too, then back to the house to jar up the milk and get on with our day.

It’s a nice routine, one that will be broken up soon, with the arrival of our 3 apprentices. Greg and I are looking forward to the coming help, the excitement of live-in apprentices , and a busy and fruitful growing season. There’s also a bit of a sad farewell to our quiet winter, hunkered down as a family.

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