on Ants and Grasshoppers

 

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Winter farming is a gauntlet of blessings & curses that find me calling on God, Saint Anthony, and Mothers everywhere. And, there’s nothing like a hard winter to separate the Ants from the Grasshoppers.

Good farmers cultivate a solid foundation of Ant habits that growing up in the suburbs doesn’t much prepare you for. Being a Grasshopper by nature is the bane of my winter farming existence, particularly since I work off-farm.

The summertime load of chores is heavy enough, but winter leaves little room for error. And the extra measures to make sure things don’t freeze, stay dry, get lost or remain accessible in ice or snow only add extra crankiness, discomfort and minutes to an already long day.

Do Ants have it easy in the winter? No, nobody does. But Ants do enjoy more forgiveness and Options B, C, D and E’s when the situation gets tough.

IMG_4071IMG_4063IMG_3850IMG_4111Frozen lanes, stuck tractors, engines too cold to start, frozen pipes…

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Poultry-geists (and the frozen eggs they leave behind)

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Winter cows are just as thirsty as summer ones

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I LOVE sawing through a couple inches of ice and plastic webbing with frozen hands in subzero weather. Do NOT drop that ax or knife!

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Nestled up means I have lots of shoveling to look forward to…

A few recent highlights: 

Decide to save some time by filling all the troughs to the brim to save a water haul or two? Tsk, tsk. Last night’s cold snap froze all that water solid in the troughs. Now where are you going to put today’s fresh water?

Too tired to fill the gas cans tonight? Think that chore can wait until tomorrow? Uh-oh. Tomorrow’s emergency demands a tractor quick. That nearly empty tank and empty cans mean you’re not going anywhere fast. And let’s hope your fuel line isn’t frozen… Sigh.

Late for work, you don’t have time to drain the water hose, bring the chicken’s waterers inside, or make sure the electric heaters are working properly? Too bad. No hose, no water for you. Only got an hour to get the watering done? That’s a shame.

Remember that balmy, dry day you didn’t feel like moving the massive round bales from the hill where the snow drifts? Today’s snowstorm means those bales are stuck right where they are until the snow melts. Cows are hungry you say? Oh, well.

Forget to pick up the temporary water baskets from the pasture after the cows were done drinking? Arrggghhhh, cold snap freezes their handles solid in a puddle leaving the baskets useless when you need them most.

Dilly-dally inside and start your evening chores too late? Nothing like being stuck on the road with an unlit farm wagon after dark to make you feel alive.

The neighbor suits up and pushes your rig off the road with his bigger tractor? Whew! Never been so grateful, at least ’till next time.

Not in the mood to haul 300 pounds of pig feed to the barn, divide the bags in half and fill the bins after a long day at work? Ha! Massive rain then overnight freeze, universal joint on quad broke and driveway inaccessible by car or tractor? What was a routinely manageable job has now become a time-consuming challenge. Hope you’re not in a hurry…

Dropped those critically important tools on the ground in the snow? You may be out there for a while… hope those gloves aren’t wet.

Sometimes though, Grasshoppers get lucky.

Tractor started right up one sub-zero morning, bales scooped right up according to plan, net wrap peeled off easily, and delivered all the hay in an uneventful hour? Thank you God :)

Remember the night you forgot to take out the trash? How lucky is it that those gallon milk jugs, lids still on are precisely what you need to carry hot water to the pigs via sled? Small blessings…

I could go on, but you get the picture. See, this farming journey is all about facing your worst self, overcoming resistance and attitude and realizing that,

  1. You’re capable of much more than you ever imagined
  2. Overcoming your own limits and resistance is valuable work
  3. There’s an awful lot of infrastructure we take for granted that will bite us one day if we continue to ignore it. Hard.

Today, I think I’ve reached a brief truce with the Forces That Be. I could have prepared much, much better. But I also suited up every day and duked it out as best I could. Luck was with me more often than not, and things could be much, much worse.

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The best part is that my scrappy, happy, self-sufficient animals have done more than meet me halfway. Their attitude, fortitude and generally upbeat faces greet me after long, anxious nights of worry. They don’t love all of winter, but unlike me they are innocent of the risks and dangers and the possible penalties of being a Grasshopper.

Which makes me resolve to be the best Ant I can be.

How about you? Are you an Ant or a Grasshopper?