Wednesday, February 17, 2021

Winter with Kids on the Farm

“I love cold weather. I love cold weather. I love cold weather,” I repeat to myself while skating across a frozen barn lot with two buckets of feed. 


And I do love the cold. The way it makes apparent the simple acting of exhaling so curious that kids ask questions. Or the way we have to bed down huts in the middle of the pasture to provide some protection for new calves. Or the way it covers the land, gates, and bins with frost and makes everything glow in the moonlight. I do love cold weather.


But cold weather on a farm with two children may not warrant the “L” word. 


My husband travels often for work and January through April is his busiest time to hop on a plane and travel to North America’s ranches. We get through it with a lot of Snapchats of newborn calves “Look who arrived early!!!”, thorough feed instructions, and patient children not afraid of Vaseline.

Bedtime Skincare Routine

With temperatures in the twenties and dropping this week, bundling the kids up to go feed is a chore in itself. We start with a thick and even layer of Vaseline to the cheeks. I get down on two knees in front of them and paint their faces like we’re going into war. And in some ways, we are. 

Chore War Paint


“You are strong. We can do this. We’ll be back in the house in an hour,” I tell them over and over, mostly for my own motivation. 


Then we layer. 


Hooded sweatshirts for the base layer, coveralls so stiff they can barely walk in them, wild rags (silk scarves) to protect their necks and make them feel like real cowboys, Carhartt coats with pockets where they can hide snow, feathers and rocks, toboggans that fall over their eyes, and gloves that will be removed two minutes after stepping outside. By the time I get them both dressed and out the door we’re all three sweating and ready for the chill.

Because they’re 2 and 4 and in the thick of the independence stage (when does this end? And don’t tell me 18), neither allow me to help them through the snow or across the solid sheet of ice that is our barn lot. I walk to the barn and have 10 buckets of feed filled by the time they make it across the lot. 


We’ve been outside for seven minutes and Cyrus’ hands are already cold because he has removed his gloves to put tiny snowballs in his pockets and Caroline is licking snow and ice off the side of our farm truck. I warn about germs, but no one takes me seriously because I’m holding a pitchfork with 10 lbs. of afterbirth on it. 


We move on and feed the main lot of cows with new calves, then the feeder steers we feed out for freezer beef, then two separate pens of weaned heifers, then the cows who are in a lot close to the barn because I pen them up nightly so they don’t calve out in the pasture. Then we go out and check all the calf huts, counting calves and fluffing straw so the calves are more inclined to sleep there, safe and warm, rather than the middle of a dark pasture where predators and wind may get them.


Questions are plenty, and I answer the best I can. Right about the time I was trying to formulate an answer to, “Do you think coyotes come in the middle of the night because they want to drink the mommy cow’s milk when she’s sleeping?” Cyrus began whimpering that his hands were cold. When this banter begins, I know I have approximately four minutes until a high-speed-come-apart takes place. So, I hustle to wrap things up, bed down the barn, feed the barn cats (don’t ask), drain the hoses, throw down hay, and close all the gates for the night. 


By this time there are warm tears coming from both sets of eyes, gloves are lost, hands are red, and a change of heart has taken place: both kids are now desperate to be carried to the house. I convince Caroline to walk and hold my hand while I carry Cyrus across the ice and up the hill to the house. She’s having a hard time holding my hand because she is using her wild rag as a Kleenex. Cyrus is so over the chore experience that he’s thrown himself onto the hardened snow, facedown, screaming. I swoop him up as quickly as possible so no one driving by questions my parenting, grab Caroline’s hand and we briskly walk to the house. 


I get everyone unbundled, hats and gloves on the register so the snow melts off, frigid hands washed in luke-warm water and tears and Vaseline wiped off cold red cheeks. It was in this moment of thinking, “We got another evening’s work done and we all survived,” that I hear from the living room:


“Mommy. Can we have popsicles for being so good?”


“Yes, Mommy!” Cyrus chimed in, hanging on my leg with thawing red hands. “I want blue.”


 I didn't realize one could recover from hypothermia so quickly.