A 2-inch snowfall on the last day of November kicked us into meteorological winter with a bang. Could be a harbinger of things to come or the biggest snow all year—no telling. I understand why the center of a roast or turkey keeps getting hotter after it comes out of the oven but not why it takes so long after the shortest day of the year for the earth to start warming up again. Anyway, with the plant kingdom going dormant—still requiring harvesting and packing, but less fieldwork overall—we shift our attention to livestock, picking up behind ourselves and fixing flats.
The firewood fort around the edge of our side porch is comforting. Much of it is yet to be split since there was no time for that when the trees and big limbs came down from violent storms two summers ago. Splitting wood is way better in cold weather anyway. This year’s fallings are curing nicely off the porch for next year.
It’s breeding season for the sheep, with two rams running amongst 35 or so ewes. They go together on Halloween so the lambs won’t come ‘til March, when winter is supposed to be over. The rams and ewes will be separated this week so lambing season will end before hot weather sets in. The ewes have been through two cycles, and if each isn’t bred now, it is for some reason.
It’s hard to know if the rams are performing their duties. With a seemingly minor contribution to producing the next generation, compared to all the ewe goes though, he does play a critical role. We see the ram sniffing around his flock, checking pheromone levels, awaiting standing heat. The funny thing is, when you don’t see much commotion in the field, it means the hormonal dance is going well.
Calving season ended back in November. John wants to catch each newborn before they get their legs under them so he can get identification tags in its ears. Trying to catch a calf, even one only a few days old, gets them excited and afraid of people. Besides, they seem like they are all legs flailing around when you do finally catch them. When they are grazing near the cattle barn, John can easily move the calves and cows into the corral around the barn with sorting pens and a chute. There, he can quietly and slowly attend to each individual, and all is calm.
Because it takes longer to raise grass-fed, grass-finished cattle to market weight, it will be another two years before John knows which of this year’s matings made the best grass-fed beef. Over generations, he has bred for a beast with a squatter body that will finish on grass. Taller, long-framed animals are the industry standard, but they must consume lots of grain to develop into USDA Choice-grade beef.
Insect netting and frost blankets are being gathered up and hung over the tier rails in the barn. Each one has a number that correlates to its width, length, make up and condition. Some provide more frost protection than others, some keep out flea beetles, others cucumber beetles, but they look a lot alike hanging in the barn. Hanking them—a form of braiding—turns a 1,000-foot, unwieldy sheet of material into a manageable mass.
The shade cloth that we pulled over the greenhouse in the summer to create our onion and sweet potato curing shed needs to come off before winter really sets in. After all, seedlings get started in the dead of winter.
Now is when we find time to fix a few flat tires. With hundreds of tires of all types around the farm, slow leaks are often dealt with later, which means winter. Some equipment is only used a few times a year, so it’s easy to air them up when you need them and not worry about it until, well, now.
All my cap lights—extremely lightweight to clip to the bill of my Kentucky Proud hats—have good batteries in them. I don’t see how anybody can go through life without several of them, especially this time of year. The short days of winter means more walking around in the dark, mornings and evenings, as the chores must be done. While it may be too soon for the Geminid meteor showers, I have witnessed quite a few falling stars lately. Maybe that’s why it’s called meteorological winter?
Sometimes it’s hard to decide whether to sit by the fire a bit longer and air up that tire again, or go break it down and fix it. Next spring, I’ll wish I had. —Mac Stone