It’s another awful winter here in Michigan, and taking its toll here on our farm. I’m not trying to be a downer, I promise. But I am trying to give you a realistic idea of what having a small farm means in these conditions. If you are thinking of taking it on, you will have the benefit of being aware of these challenges that come along with the joys of homesteading.
The polar temperatures of late have resulted in all of our outdoor water sources freezing up, forcing us to haul water from inside our house via bucket. Even then, it’s a crapshoot as to whether the stock tank heaters or heated buckets (all of which are brand new this season) are going to be able to hold up against the subzero temperatures and windchills. I am physically incapable of carrying the buckets down due to my asthma, which is cold triggered, so George has to make several trips a couple of times a week to refill all of the tanks and buckets, trekking up and down the hill, and while we do our best to keep a clear path, sometimes ice builds up underneath the snow. He’s hurt his back and ankles from slipping, poor man. He works so hard for us on and off the farm.
There is only so much we are able to do in terms of providing shelter and warmth for our animals, and we do our best. Despite this, we are often fighting a losing battle. We lost Hugo, our little yearling buck, a couple of weeks ago during a cold snap. The bucks do cuddle up together and have a nice nest built in the straw in their structure, but he was a descendant of the herd we bought from another local farm a few years ago that we ended up having to cull completely due to all of their health issues. He was small like his mother, and apparently just couldn’t endure the cold. It’s heartwrenching to find animals frozen to death with their herdmates snuggled around them.
Although we bred our goats with the earliest expected due dates in March, we had a tragedy on Sunday. Our herd queen, Heidi, went into labor prematurely. This is quite unusual for her, as she has been diligent to carry her babies until the 150th day or even a few days later in years past. We are not sure if her babies were stillborn or if they lived briefly after they were birthed; in either case, they had passed when we found them that morning and Heidi was very distressed about it. She had a pair of beautiful little twins with her Sundgau coloring – the buckling had teeny LaMancha ears like his father, our buck Jayne, and the doeling had long ears like mama. I would have liked to have known them and watched them learn to goat. I am still mourning their loss. They were precious bitty little darlings and I hugged them and apologized that they didn’t get to know life.
Our son found our Muscovy duck Amy dead on Sunday morning. She had been attacked by a raccoon. They like to behead poultry, and we could tell from the marks in the snow that she put up quite a fight, so her neck and head were quite shredded up, but still attached. The attacker didn’t even bother eating her. They do it because it amuses them. Can you see why I have little sympathy for those little masked bandits? Amy apparently slipped out of the duck house – she should have been safe with the rest of the flock, but she was stubborn and liked to spend the night outdoors if she could manage to do it. It apparently went unnoticed on Saturday night when we shut down, which is not an unreasonable thing to happen in this cold – we are trying to get things done as quickly as possible so we can avoid frostbite (and asthma attacks for me.)
Being a very empathetic and emotionally sensitive person, days like Sunday can really kick me when I’m already struggling with the Lurking Grey Gloom of seasonal affective disorder. I am thankful for my husband and son, because they share in my feelings of loss while at the same time providing comfort. School was canceled for our son yesterday due to the dangerous temperatures, and George was home with a back injury. While I am sorry for the pain he was feeling, I am grateful to have had an extra day with them both after a very tough weekend.
One day, I hope to live in a warmer climate. Even if it gets relatively “cold” there during the winter – as long as it’s above freezing, it will be a cakewalk compared to what we deal with here. My feelings about the snow, ice, and sub-freezing temperatures are probably best expressed in this editorial comic by Mike Thompson of the Detroit Free Press. I will leave you with his apt commentary.