Anyone who has ever spent a day on a farm in this part of the country understands that when winter does finally arrive the reality of its consequences is severe, unless the farmer prepares for it in late fall. That preparation involves making certain that the barns are in good enough condition to shelter cattle and hogs and arranging the livestock to have them moved closer to the barns and barn yards and in close proximity to a good water supply. With some advance planning, the farm animals could endure the winter ahead of them.
When I grew up Dad had a lot of beef cattle and maybe up to 30 pigs he was raising into hogs. He prepared for Ohio winters which can be bitterly cold accompanied with lots of snow or sleet or just a miserable amount of cold rain. During the 60’s and 70’s, some of the worst winters were experienced in our history. By growing up here a person learns to deal with winter and dress appropriately according to the day’s weather. We must endure and we all do the best we can. For the livestock the bitter weather coming is new to them and can in many ways be fatal to them if their owner doesn’t care for them in the correct ways.
Twice a day I had to wrap up and head to the barns and feed the cows ground corn or cow feed and fill the mangers with several bales of hay, making certain that the hay was equally spread in the mangers so all the cows could get a chance to eat their share. When it was below freezing for more than a day, I got to go to the creek or pond, whichever their water supply was, and used an ax to break the ice that was preventing the livestock from drinking water. (Always felt Dad gave me a dull ax.)
With the hogs I had to make certain their feeder, which could hold maybe 8 burlap bags of feed when full, did indeed still have some of that feed left in it. You see hogs can and do consume huge amounts of feed and eat almost 24 hours a day. (where the expression eat like a hog comes from.) It was a daily occurrence that as many as eight 60 to 70 pound bags of feed had to be carried to and dumped into the feeder. This wasn’t as easy as it sounds as the hogs would churn up the dirt around a feeder into mud and walking through it carrying a bag of feed became a test of strength and balance. Once this was complete and if the temperature had been below freezing more than 24 hours, I took the ax and broke the ice for them to get water also. Let me remind you that cattle and hogs consume a lot of water and need to in order to remain healthy and it should never be forgotten that these animals are investments and nobody wants to lose their investment.
This procedure went on from late November until mid-March. If doing this in subzero bone chilling rain doesn’t sound like fun, then I have made my point, but if you farmed you did this and did it your best to protect the animals. I know when I was young and really didn’t understand the why of all this I decided I wasn’t going out there in that nasty weather and get so cold I would shiver and the wind would freeze my face. Once I figured they would do fine and be OK if I missed one time.
Of course feeding was done on a timely basis and when the time had just about passed my Dad asked me if I had done the feeding and I tried to side step him. He looked at me and said “you know the livestock have to eat and drink daily and if they don’t they will perish” and he then walked away. Feeling like the biggest jerk in the entire world, I suited up with the three layers of clothing, put on my four- buckle boots, a scarf to wrap around my neck and cover my face, grabbed my insulated gloves, and went out in almost total darkness and fed the cows and pigs that night, ashamed of what I almost had done. I can honestly say that never happened again, but I will say that I really hated fighting the elements of an Ohio winter. As much as I loved growing up on a farm and experiencing all that I did, this was a part that just had to be done and there definitely was no way around it.
When spring arrives there is the preparing and planting and new hope as the earth wakes up and warms up. In the summer a person watches the crops grow and enjoys working in hot weather, seeing that what was planted was growing. In the fall the farmer harvests his crops, enjoys watching the trees change colors with a flare, and can still be somewhat warm and also begin to prepare for the next season.
Then the farmer endures the long cold winter caring for his animals and trying to stay warm and begins his planning for what he will raise when spring finally does get here. It was still a great way to grow up even if a fourth of it had to be done in long under wear and coveralls. Stay warm!
Rick Houser grew up on a farm near Moscow in Clermont County and loves to share his stories about his youth and other topics. He may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.